by Ryan Kang ’25
Published Oct. 16th, 2021
Satellites are crucial in our current age. They improve communication and make radios and television possible. Furthermore, they are crucial to monitoring our planet’s climate and condition, especially important now with the Earth’s drastically increasing temperatures. Yet, despite all these benefits, satellites cast a more sinister shadow: they might actually start overwhelming the number of stars in the sky.
In a new simulation led by Samantha Lawler, an astronomer at the University of Regina in Canada, scientists discovered that nearly one in every sixteen stars will be a satellite in just a few years. In an interview with ScienceNews, she claimed, “Every sixteenth star will actually be moving. I hope I’m wrong. I’ve never wanted to be wrong about a simulation more than this. But without mitigation, this is what the sky will look like in a few years.”
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, as of January 2021, there were 6,542 satellites in the sky. In a separate study by the Index of Objects Launched into Outer Space, that number increased to 7,389 satellites by the end of April. If these estimates are correct, that would mean the number of satellites in space increased by around 11.5% in just under five months.
Lawler’s simulation predicts this trend will keep going up, making it harder for night-sky viewers to to enjoy the stars thanks to the satellites’ reflective nature. Lawler, an avid star-gazer, finds this quite disturbing. “It’s like we’re building a cage of crawling, bright satellites that will be between us and the stars,” she worried.
The satellites’ light reflection is also detrimental to astronomers’ research. If an astronomer is trying to study specific stars and events, the reflected light may confuse them and cause them to either overlook the objects of their study or slow down their progress.
At present, there are no international limits on the number of satellites launched into space. To ensure that satellites do not ruin star gazing or astronomers’ research, many are trying to reach out to the United Nations to demand new regulations. Additionally, many scientists have reached out to companies like SpaceX to try to reach a compromise on this issue. Fortunately, these companies are usually willing to help by implementing simple solutions like dimming the satellites.
If we can work together, our dark, or in this case, excessively bright future may be preventable with the correct precautions.