Electromagnetic radiation from Starlink satellites is harming astronomy

A new study has found that electromagnetic radiation from satellites like Starlink hinders astronomers’ efforts to study radio waves in outer space.

SpaceX has made significant contributions to space exploration and astronomy projects recently, most recently with the launch of the European Euclidean telescope. However, a recent international study found that SpaceX’s Starlink satellites are emitting «unintended electromagnetic radiation» that has a detrimental impact on the field of radio astronomy.

Lead author Federico Di Vruno said that while astronomers had previously hypothesized this type of radiation, the latest observations «confirm that it is measurable.»

“This study represents the latest attempt to better understand the effects of satellite constellations on radio astronomy,” said Di Vruno, co-director of the United Nations Center for the Protection of Dark and Quiet Sky. International Astronomical Union from the Interference of Satellite Constellations (IAU CPS).

The team of scientists, all members of CPS, used the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) telescope in the Netherlands to observe low-frequency waves from 68 Starlink satellites built by SpaceX.

Electromagnetic radiation is different from communication transmission, which has been the main focus of radio astronomers to date because of their capabilities far beyond astrophysics sources. Now, new non-media sources add complexity to the problem.

‘Lack of clear regulation’

Co-author Cees Bassa from the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy said the team detected radiation between 110 and 188 MHz from 47 of the 68 Starlink satellites.

“This frequency range includes a protected frequency band between 150.05 and 153 MHz specifically allocated by the International Telecommunication Union for radio astronomy,” explains Bassa.

But technically, SpaceX isn’t breaking any rules because satellites like Starlink don’t follow any international regulations, Bassa noted. This is in contrast to equipment on the ground, which is governed by strict rules to prevent interference between nearby devices.

Co-author Benjamin Winkel of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany added: «Our simulations show that the larger the constellation, the more important this effect becomes as radiation from all the satellites. total».

“This has us worried not only about the existing constellations, but even more about the planned ones – and also about the lack of clear regulation to protect the invisible astronomical bands. line from unwanted radiation.”

It’s important to note that SpaceX is not the only company with satellites that emit electromagnetic radiation. The Starlink satellites were chosen as the subjects of this study because of their wide availability, but other major satellite constellations are also prone to errors.

The authors of the study, published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, are currently «in close contact» with SpaceX, which has rolled out the changes to its next generation of satellites. to reduce the impact of these unintended emissions on astronomical projects.

Co-author Gyula Józsa adds: “We believe that early recognition of this situation will give astronomical and large constellation operators the opportunity to work together to proactively reduce engineering, parallel with the discussions necessary to develop appropriate regulations”.

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