Dozens of Internet satellites will soon be crisscrossing Canadian skies, but at what cost?


The night sky is going to get much busier with the launch of thousands of new internet satellites over the next few years – and researchers say this will affect Canada more than most places on Earth.

Researchers at the University of Toronto, the University of Regina and the University of British Columbia have found that most light pollution is expected to occur near 50 degrees north and south latitude due to the orbits of new satellites.

This means that the skies near most major Canadian cities such as Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Regina and Winnipeg could be affected.

“As with any new technology, it is important to consider all possible impacts,” explains Hanno Rein, Associate Professor at U of T Scarborough and co-author of the new research.

“This is such a fundamental change in our view of the sky that it requires further examination.”

Hanno Rein (photo by Ken Jones)

Several internet service companies are planning to launch tens of thousands of satellites in the near future, which will result in a 20-fold increase in these objects in Earth’s lower orbit. It is estimated that the number of satellites in orbit could reach 65,000 in the next few years, against around 5,000 today.

This flood of satellites represents a major challenge for astronomers (and amateur astronomers) who have to deal with light pollution from thousands of new light points. Rein says about eight percent of all light in the night sky may soon be coming from these satellites. What will be most noticeable to the average person are the hundreds of new lights slowly moving across the night sky at any given time.

Researchers say these satellites will also contribute to air pollution from rocket fuel during launch and reentry when they burn in Earth’s atmosphere.

More satellites also increase the threat of low orbit collisions, contributing to what’s known as Kessler syndrome. This is where the number of objects in low orbit is high enough that a collision becomes more likely, resulting in a cascading effect where space debris increases the likelihood of further collisions. There is currently no method of cleaning up space debris, which means that some space activities and the use of other satellites could be prevented for long periods of time.

“If these satellites collide, it becomes much brighter because the area is increasing because of all the little fragments of debris that are created,” says Rein, whose research focuses on exoplanets and the development of mathematical methods used. in astrophysics.

Although the technology has been touted by companies as a way to provide high-speed internet access to rural areas, Rein notes that the service is expensive and only a relatively small group of people living in wealthy countries will benefit from it.

“The impact of light and environmental pollution, on the other hand, will be felt by everyone,” he says.

He says another consideration is what happens if those companies go bankrupt and can no longer handle the satellites already in orbit.

The research, which has not yet been peer reviewed, was submitted toThe astronomical journal. Rein also helped develop a web application that allows people to select a latitude, season, and time of night to find out how many satellites will be in the night sky and their brightness.

“The sky plays an important cultural and scientific role in people’s lives,” he says. “You cannot escape this technology – you will always see these satellites flying above you, no matter where you are in the world.”

About Hannah Schaeffer

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