Satellites are Spoiling Images Taken by the Hubble Space Telescope

A series of curved satellites spoil Hubble’s view of the universe.

Images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope are increasingly marred by thousands of satellites crossing the sky.

A study Posted in natural astronomy reveals an increase in the number of images recorded by Hubble that are stained by the passage of satellites such as SpaceX’s Starlink.

NASA is forced to delete satellite footage in post-processing, which can block out distant galaxies that scientists are trying to study. However, the space agency says that for now it’s not a big deal.

“Although such analyzes may show a gradual increase in detected satellite trails over time, most of these trails are easily removed using standard data reduction techniques, and the majority of affected images are still usable. “said a spokeswoman. recount The New York Times. “Satellite footage does not currently pose a significant threat to scientific efficiency and analysis of Hubble data.”

satellite trails
Several streaks of statellite
Hubble satellite series
A single series of satellites

The shrunken view of Hubble

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990 and revolutionized humanity’s understanding of the cosmos while providing iconic images such as the pillars of creation.

Over the next 33 years, thousands of satellites have been launched into orbit and most of them live 10 miles above Hubble; with the telescope residing approximately 335 miles above the Earth’s surface.

To study the effect of this phenomenon, astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany analyzed hundreds of thousands of Hubble images taken from 2002 to 2021.

They found that from 2009 to 2020, satellite footage affected 3.7% of Hubble images. But in 2021, that number has risen to 5.9% — an increase that matches the rise of Starlink.

satellite trails

satellite trails

Since the study ended, there have been many more SpaceX launches. The analysis was performed when there were 1,652 Starlink satellites in orbit; in February 2023, there were more than 3,580 satellites.

The Elon Musk-owned company said it hopes to expand its system to 42,000 satellites and many other companies are launching satellites into orbit with a combined 431 713 planned launch in the future.

If only 100,000 satellites were launched in the next few years, the number of satellites in space would increase tenfold, which means that around 50% of Hubble’s images would contain a series of satellites.

“When will Hubble no longer be useful?” Dr. McCaughrean, co-author of the study, reflects on The New York Times. “It could be 10 or 20 years from now, but it’s not inconceivable that there will be a time when you say, ‘Don’t bother us anymore. “”

Picture credits: NASA/ESA/Kruk et al.

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