Friday 3rd November 2023 A cluttered and noisy sky?

Meeting the challenge of satellite constellations (and why you should care)

Dr Robert Massey

Friday 3rd November 2023 7.30 pm in the BRLSI, can be attended either in the BRLSI or remotely on Zoom

Lecture 3 of 4 on the theme ‘Conserving the Planet’ in association with the Herschel Museum of Astronomy

Image shows Signal pollution in a 333-second exposure image taken from the Blanco four-meter (13′) telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory © NSF’s National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory/CTIO/AURA/DELVE.

65 years ago the Soviet Union placed the first satellite in space. There are now around 5,000 satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO), the region up to 2,000 km above the ground, and their deployment is accelerating. 2019 saw the launch of Starlink, a satellite constellation built and launched by SpaceX, a system that on its own could soon have more than 30,000 spacecraft deployed. With other operators we could see up to 400,000 satellites in LEO by the end of this decade.

This is nothing less than a step change in our use of space. And like most paradigm shifts, it will have significant consequences. A key example is how it will affect the science of astronomy and our view of the sky. Some estimates suggest that the majority of ‘stars’ visible to the eye could be satellites, and professional and amateur astronomers alike now face significant challenges to our work. As a result our community has mobilised, working at a national, international and global level to tackle a complex problem, and to try to find a balance between the positive results of boosting communications and the impact on the space environment.

Robert Massey will set out the problem, what it means for scientists and the wider public, and what we can do about it.”

Dr Robert Massey is Deputy Executive Director of the Royal Astronomical Society. Before joining the RAS, his career took him from an undergraduate degree in Leicester and PhD research in Manchester to teaching in Brighton, and local politics in London alongside a stint as Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. In his spare time he enjoys running, cycling, hiking and cooking, and generally making the most of life in his new family home in Sussex. With a lifelong private and public passion for astronomy, he very much wants to avoid a world where satellites ruin our shared heritage of an unsullied night sky.

A link to a video recording of this lecture is available here.