Elon Musk’s Starlink Satellites Interfere with Asteroid-Spotting Telescope

by Michael Freeman

With experts worrying Elon Musk’s thousands of Starlink satellites may clog up the atmosphere, a new complaint has emerged. Apparently, the satellites are interfering with a notable asteroid-spotting telescope.

Though minimal at first, a fifth of all images the asteroid-spotting telescope takes is now obstructed by SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. Astronomers say the objects appear as streaks in their telescope images, disrupting their viewing. Steadily increasing their satellite count, SpaceX now has more than 2,000 in low Earth orbit. The California Institute of Technology examined images the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) took between 2019 and 2021. Though hardly noticeable in 2019, the satellites now take up 20 percent of each photo, Daily Mail reports.

Scientists estimate once SpaceX achieves its goal of 10,000 Starlink satellites, every image taken will have at least one streak. However, it isn’t as bad as it may seem. Each streak accounts for one-tenth of one percent of the pixels a full ZTF image displays. So, while it initially sounds like a huge problem, it isn’t too bad. In fact, experts say cloudy skies have a larger impact.

Nonetheless, SpaceX engineers are trying to counter this effect. For example, they’ve tried reducing how reflective the satellites are, as well as providing tracking information. Some of these efforts have already proven successful, with larger observatories installing their own countermeasures. One method they’ve taken is installing software that counter-acts, or predicts, where the satellites will be when images are taken.

Though the problem is manageable now, astronomers fear it will only get worse, unfortunately. SpaceX isn’t the only organization launching low Earth orbit constellations either. British-owned OneWeb is expanding its own constellation while Amazon is utilizing its Kuiper system.

Overall, the problem will only grow unless we take countermeasures now with satellites constantly launching.

With entities like SpaceX launching satellites regularly, it’s only natural the process may startle some people. A week ago, Australians were treated to Starlink satellites twinkling in the night sky and mistakingly believed them to be UFOs.

Sydney and the New South Wales Central Coast all shared videos of a recent launch, with many thinking they saw UFOs. “I was fishing at Huntleys Point and then I looked in the sky and I just see some like airplane lights,” one witness said.”I’m not sure, but there was about 20 of them traveling in one line and it was very weird.” 7 News Australia covered the story, sharing some videos people recorded and clearing the air for locals.

ANU Astrophysicist Dr. Brad Tucker told the news outlet these launches will become increasingly common in the coming years. “Instead of seeing stars everywhere, you’ll see satellites everywhere,” he chuckled.

What’s funny to me is if a real UFO appears and people label it as a satellite launch. Maybe it’s better not to think about that though.