On May 23, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket took a flight to deliver 60 Starlink satellites into orbit. These satellites will beam the internet to the world.
From the surface, people reported sighting a string of lights moving high up in the sky. Some took photos and recorded videos of the satellites looking like a constellation of stars.
"All of those videos and pictures delighted the public," commented Jessie Christiansen, an astronomer from Caltech, in a story published by NPR. "But it horrified the astronomy community."
Astronomers Worry Starlink Satellites Would Obscure The Night Sky
The company founded by Elon Musk has received approval from the Federal Communications Commission to send up to nearly 12,000 satellites to space. By the end of the year, SpaceX expects to have hundreds of satellites in orbit around Earth.
Other companies, including Amazon, are also looking into the development and deployment of similar satellite constellations.
While astronomers have to contend with satellites in the past, sometimes, they look like shooting stars but SpaceX's Starlink is quite different. Victoria Girgis, an astronomer at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona, said that the constellation of satellites created over two dozen streaks across an image of a distant galaxy that she was trying to capture.
"Satellite constellations can pose a significant or debilitating threat to important existing and future astronomical infrastructures, and we urge their designers and deployers as well as policy-makers to work with the astronomical community in a concerted effort to analyze and understand the impact of satellite constellations," said the International Astronomical Union in a statement released on June 3.
The United Nations has a treaty on the peaceful use of space, but there is currently no regulation that will address the potential problems that satellite constellations pose to scientific exploration. Legal experts told Space News that astronomers can do very little to halt the launch of Starlink satellites into orbit under existing laws.
SpaceX Responds To Starlink Concerns
SpaceX has assured the public that the Starlink satellites will grow dimmer as they reach their final orbit. The company is also currently working with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory to minimize the impact of the satellite constellation.
In a tweet, Musk argued that there are already 4,900 satellites in orbit and most are not noticeable. He said that the Starlink constellation would not be an issue for astronomy.
He also added that if needed, the company can tweak the orientation of the satellites to minimize reflectivity during critical scientific experiments.