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Astronomers are finding that SpaceX satellites are polluting images of space more than ever before

SpaceX's Starlink satellites leave 35 times more traces in astronomers' photographs over two years, a new study has found.

It is also believed that when Starlink is completed, each image will have one track - a white line - across.

Using archive images from 2019 to 2021 from a survey telescope at the Palomar Observatory, astronomers took data on all orbits of SpaceX's Starlink vessels and compared them with images taken from the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF). ZTF is designed to capture rare events, so repeatedly scans the sky to compare for objects that suddenly appear.

Once the image turned out to contain a satellite, it was asked to detect if there was a light line across it. While there were only 100 Starlink satellites in orbit, a trace would only be found once every ten days.

(Victoria Girgis / Lowell observed)

But when Starlink quickly grew to over 1,500 satellites in orbit, ZTF would generally find over 200 tracks in the same time frame, reports Ars Technica.

SpaceX is aware of these issues. By 2020, hundreds of astronomers warned that satellite constellations could prove "extremely effective" for astronomy and scientific advances, and that "Starlink alone can roughly double the number of space-based moving objects that can be detected with the naked eye around twilight."

SpaceX has implemented a variety of tactics to reduce the visibility of its satellite network, including painting them black and twisting the position of their solar panels to make them less reflective.

The researchers in this new study found that the visors had an effect - that their brightness decreased significantly - but unfortunately they were still higher than the set goals.

It is estimated that while there is only a 0.04 percent chance that a rare event may not be detected due to Starlink satellites, the problem could get significantly worse as more companies like OneWeb or Amazon Kuiper launch competing networks.

SpaceX already has approval to launch over 10,000, by which time each image in the twilight is likely to contain a Starlink track. Twilight observations are usually made when searching for objects, such as comets and asteroids, in our solar system. At 40,000 satellites, all twilight images are likely to have four tracks. SpaceX did not respond to a request from The independent before the time of publication.

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