How to prevent artificial satellites from turning off at night

Image of the group of galaxies NGC 5353/4 made with a telescope at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona, USA. on May 25, 2019. The diagonal lines running through the image are trails of reflected light left by the Starlink satellites launched shortly before. Credit: Victoria Girgis / Lowell Observatory

When the billionaire

Elon musk

decided to stick his nose in space exploration, many thought it would bring prosperity to science. That new possibilities for research would open up and that a new space age was approaching. The price? At that time we did not know him. We probably still don't know him completely. When money prostitutes science, it forgets its very essence.

The night sky is populated with tiny points of light originating hundreds, billions of years ago in remote parts of our universe. Only now do they reach our planet after traveling through the immense cosmic void. For this reason, they have been the object of desire, admiration and even adoration in the history of humanity. Entire towns have looked at the celestial vault with different objectives. Monuments, temples and sculptures were oriented for astronomical reasons in antiquity.

The history of navigation is actually a history of observing the night sky and our contemporary life is riddled with astronomical allusions. This study is not only a show in motion, but a confirmation of our cosmic insignificance. This has implications in basic and applied science, but also in ethical, moral, and philosophical issues that ultimately govern our social behavior.

A simulation of how satellites will surround the planet

The study of the cosmos is carried out in Spain from facilities with ground-breaking technologies such as the Calar Alto Observatories (Almera) and the Roque de los Muchachos (La Palma). The facilities of the Very Large Telescope in Chile and the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii have changed our conception of the universe and the origin of our own solar system.

There is still more. The near future of astronomical exploration has opted very strongly for ground observation with the development and projection of high-value installations such as the E-ELT (European Extremely Large Telescope) or the TMT (Thirty Meter Telescope).


satellite constellation, ironically called Starlink (stellar link, in english)

, was conceived by the company SpaceX and announced in 2015. The objective they sell and advertise is to provide broadband internet anywhere in the world.

Of course, it is not a free network.

The company plans to generate revenues of more than $ 30 billion in 2025.

 for the use of this network by citizens, who will pay their monthly fees like every neighbor's child.


necessary infrastructure for this is a network of more than 42,000 satellites

 225 kilos each that will orbit the Earth at altitudes of between 300 and 1500 kilometers. Currently, the total number of satellites (including communications for the most part and much less astronomical exploration) in orbit around Earth is around 2,000.

By the end of 2020, SpaceX will have sent more than 1,500 from the Starlink network, doubling in just one year the number of space objects around our planet. The 120 satellites launched by the company in January of this year have already produced a significant impact on observational astronomy, since they affect our astronomical images and the enjoyment of the night sky to which we are all entitled.

The most curious thing of all is that to fill the sky of our planet with thousands of satellites of more than 200 kilos, SpaceX has only needed the permission of the American Communications Agency. Not only does an American company have the capacity to appropriate the night sky of the entire planet, but also the one who gives the green light to this space macroproject is a communications agency that has nothing to do with the exploration of the cosmos.

Basic science, as always, is ignored by an industry that doesn't find out that it really depends on it.

Heaven is the next frontier of resources and raw materials. We are so immersed in this vortex of capital growth at any price that the industry begins to think about exploiting resources beyond our atmosphere and we do not seem to react proportionally.

There are already many companies that think of traveling to asteroids to exploit the minerals that these celestial bodies possess, which were the blocks with which the planets of the Solar System were built and which are believed to be responsible for bringing water to Earth and allowing as the development of life.

Destroying asteroids as we have destroyed entire mountains to extract raw materials is an outrage to science and an insult to the cosmos. The Nobel Prize in Physics Didier Queloz explains it in this interview at the University of Cambridge:

For all these reasons, there is an urgent reaction from governments at the international level to create legislation that shields the right to a dark night sky (it seems incredible that we need to legislate that). Astronomical bodies and institutions have to demand and are demanding that governments around the world stop this industrial madness without planning.

If we want the night to remain dark, we are going to have to fight it because the industry, which masquerades as false equity and solidarity its economic growth at any social cost, will not do it by itself. If we don't, the money will kill us by crushing. Let's save our skies, let's avoid the end of the night.

Jorge Lillo-Box, Postdoctoral researcher at the Astrobiology Center (CSIC-INTA), Astrobiology Center (INTA-CSIC)

. How to prevent artificial satellites from turning off the night – LA NACION