Satellites, space debris may have already brightened night skies 10% globally – and it's going to get worse

Goodbye darkness, my old friend


Constellations of satellites and chunks of space debris orbiting Earth and reflecting sunlight may have lightened our night skies by more than 10 per cent, scientists say. We're also told the light pollution is increasing.

“We expected the sky brightness increase would be marginal, if any, but our first theoretical estimates have proved extremely surprising and thus encouraged us to report our results promptly," said Miroslav Kocifaj, a senior researcher at the Slovak Academy of Sciences and lead author of a study into the light pollution, published today in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Astronomers have previously complained that SpaceX’s Starlink sats flitting across the sky get in the way of astronomical observations. Gleaming from the Sun's brilliance, they can appear as a moving string of lights. Although concerns have been raised about the increased brightness from stuff in orbit, the International Astronomical Union initially said it did not yet have a good grasp on their wider impact.

Now, a team of researchers have calculated that the overall brightness of Earth's night sky may have been raised by more than 10 percent above natural light levels by humankind's space-faring activities. Thus, truly dark nights – wherever you are, even away from cities and towns – could be increasingly hard to find.

northeast

The world's nonsense keeping you awake in middle of the night? Good news. Go outside and see this two-tail comet

READ MORE

“Unlike ground-based light pollution, this kind of artificial light in the night sky can be seen across a large part of the Earth’s surface,” said John Barentine, co-author of the paper and director of public policy for the International Dark-Sky Association, a non-profit org led by astronomers. The expansive glow means that even the darkest parts with little light pollution will still be affected.

“Astronomers build observatories far from city lights to seek dark skies, but this form of light pollution has a much larger geographical reach,” he added.

The problem will only get worse as more satellites are flung into the sky. Other culprits also include spent rocket components and other bits of debris that reflect and scatter light from the Sun.

And here's Elon's Musketeers

Here’s an extreme example of just how bright these objects can be. Last week, it appears one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets, which was launched on March 4 to put a bunch of Starlink birds into orbit, reentered our atmosphere over the west of the United States. Whatever it was – likely the rocket's second stage – it put on an unexpected light show for Americans. No debris was reported making it to ground level. Below is a video capturing the moment:

SpaceX is attempting to fix the glaring brightness of its satellites. Last year, it launched one that sported a visor to deflect sunlight.

“Our results imply that many more people than just astronomers stand to lose access to pristine night skies,” Barentine said. “This paper may really change the nature of that conversation.” ®

Similar topics

Narrower topics


Other stories you might like

  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • Declassified and released: More secret files on US govt's emergency doomsday powers
    Nuke incoming? Quick break out the plans for rationing, censorship, property seizures, and more

    More papers describing the orders and messages the US President can issue in the event of apocalyptic crises, such as a devastating nuclear attack, have been declassified and released for all to see.

    These government files are part of a larger collection of records that discuss the nature, reach, and use of secret Presidential Emergency Action Documents: these are executive orders, announcements, and statements to Congress that are all ready to sign and send out as soon as a doomsday scenario occurs. PEADs are supposed to give America's commander-in-chief immediate extraordinary powers to overcome extraordinary events.

    PEADs have never been declassified or revealed before. They remain hush-hush, and their exact details are not publicly known.

    Continue reading
  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022