Aggregate Effects of Proliferating Low-Earth-Orbit Objects and Implications for Astronomical Data Lost in the Noise
The rising population of artificial satellites and associated debris in low-altitude orbits is increasing the overall brightness of the night sky, threatening ground-based astronomy as well as a diversity of stakeholders and ecosystems reliant on dark skies. We present calculations of the potentially large rise in global sky brightness from space objects in low Earth orbit, including qualitative and quantitative assessments of how professional astronomy may be affected. Debris proliferation is of special concern: we calculate that all log-decades in debris size contribute approximately the same amount of night sky radiance, so debris-generating events are expected to lead to a rapid rise in night sky brightness along with serious collision risks for satellites from centimetre-sized objects. This increase in low-Earth-orbit traffic will lead to loss of astronomical data and diminish opportunities for ground-based discoveries as faint astrophysical signals become increasingly lost in the noise. Lastly, we discuss the broader consequences of brighter skies for a range of sky constituencies, equity/inclusion and accessibility for Earth- and space-based science, and cultural sky traditions. Space and dark skies represent an intangible heritage that deserves intentional preservation and safeguarding for future generations.
Barentine, John C.; Venkatesan, Aparna; Heim, Jessica; Lowenthal, James; Kocifaj, Miroslav; and Bará, Salvador, "Aggregate Effects of Proliferating Low-Earth-Orbit Objects and Implications for Astronomical Data Lost in the Noise" (2023). Astronomy: Faculty Publications, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
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