Satellites Affect Every Wavelength of Astronomy

This is an unraveled version of a twitter thread upon request for clearer visibility and in the event the website implodes. It was written June 24, 2023.

Today I'm gonna walk you through how satellites interfere with every wavelength of astronomy--- BOTH ground AND space based. Important to know: there are 4k functioning satellites in orbit. 400,000 are in various stages of production.

Let's clear the elephant from the room. Moving telescopes to space DOES NOT fix the problem. See this recent study on satellite streaks through 20 years of hubble data:

Double satellite streak in HST data. [kruk, s et. al. 2023] Hubble is *a satellite itself*. telescopes in space DOES NOT fix the problem.

You can't "throw out" exposures. My degree is in "transient" astronomy-- very fast, energetic, truly novel explosions in our universe. They are short lived. Each moment is precious. 

[See the plot I adapted from Buckley et al 2021]

Also, I don't like throwing away YOUR tax money. Each exposure requires effort across time zones, sometimes even continents. Its a TEAM of people and resources. (Yet, still less than the US military's A/C budget in 2011)

Sending telescopes to space has become risky already, due to the amount of LEO space debris it must cross. Even JWST showed evidence of impact, though it's hard to tell exactly where from.

Take, for example, this "hyper-velocity impact sample" from ESA. This is what space debris does to satellites.

Radio data is taken in areas that are "radio quiet," but increasing radio satellite communications + WiFi + cell phones + house appliances make observations below 5 GHz impossible on earth. This will get worse as radio comms cover the earth.

Ruined data and explanation from Dr. Cendes, radio astronomer. [Tweet here]

[Infrared would go here but honestly we need more facilities... if anyone *does* has interrupted infrared data LET ME KNOW]

Optical. Sheeesh this is huge. It's not just pretty pictures. It's stars. Those individual dots under the streaks. We lose dying stars, newborn black holes, fitful magnetars, even distant worlds, all that die in moments.

Another example of a satellite streak in Hubble (which is a satellite itself). Image credit STSCI

For example: the nearby supernova flooding the news: 2023ixf. Each moment is so critical astronomers reach out to amateurs for chance data. Its field is "photobombed" with satellites. 396,000 more, and they could have interrupted our view entirely. 

The link to Professor Milisavljevic's tweet is here, which shows a movie of multiple satellite interruptions.

Did you know supernova x-ray data comes to us *ONE PHOTON at a TIME?!* my advisor always said, "each photon is precious." that means they show up like this in instruments like Swift or Chandra...

Data for my own research (in preparation) taken by Swift.

Repeating the picture so youll consider a 2nd time if we can just "average out" satellites, "stacking images". X-ray instruments are few & expensive. The science is a careful consideration of statistics. Even NON-DETECTIONS are *incredibly* important for energy estimates.

Gamma rays- another use of Swift. Satellite *debris* can glint unexpectedly (it is not tracked) and appear as VERY energetic, far away events. Consider the hours, resources, and expertise that followed a z~11 flash, only to discover it was space garbage

Paper located in full here.

What can satellite companies do? Painting the fuselages darker is a step towards reducing optical emission. But even in the best scenario, radio and X-ray issues will persist. I come from the world of science and engineering. Our budget forces us to be inventive and efficient.

The reason for my love of physics: fitting a round peg in a square hole. (screenshot of Apollo 13.)

My answer to this is #spaceEnvironmentalism. "Progress" is not populating "empty space." It is using our scientific knowledge to know better, know NOT to touch something. (see my thread about finding alien life, which has also been unraveled on my website here)

Most people i share this with are in shock. "Satellites are cool, but space should be like a National Park." ^ and that's my attitude exactly.

by Fegato on and probably the busiest field ive ever seen. the beautiful images of space we enjoy are "stacked," but this is what you would see throughout the night with your eyes.

We lament not caring about the climate sooner. 

So we're telling you, now, To continue astronomy, we need to protect space.

To continue reading more, I recommend this post about the End of Astronomy I wrote for Astrobites.