Space debris is not just a threat to working satellites and the International Space Station, but may also hinder the work that is being carried out by astrophysicists who are observing space objects.
According to a recent study published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, researchers have highlighted how the artificial light emitted from the myriad space objects orbiting the Earth and the sunlight that is reflected and spread from space objects can appear as streaks in observations made by ground-based telescopes.
The research mentions that their study discovered a new phenomenon called the skyglow effect that is produced by space objects. The skyglow effect increases night sky brightness caused by sunlight reflected and scattered by the large set of orbiting bodies whose direct radiance is a diffuse component when observed without any eye equipment or with low angular resolution photometric instruments, mentions the study.
The study included four researchers — M. Kocifaj, F Kundracik, JC Barentine, S Bará –who found that the number of objects orbiting Earth could increase the overall brightness of the night sky by more than 10 per cent above natural light levels across the planet. With this, the brightness would exceed a threshold that astronomers set over 40 years ago for considering a location “light polluted”, reports the Royal Astronomical Society.
Miroslav Kocifaj of the Slovak Academy of Sciences and Comenius University in Slovakia, who led the study, told the Royal Astronomical Society that their team expected the sky brightness increase would not be that significant. But their first theoretical estimates have proved extremely surprising and thus encouraged them to report their results promptly.
This research is the first of its kind to consider the overall impact of space objects in the night sky. Scientists included both functioning satellites as well as debris, such as spent rocket stages in their observation for the study. Even though telescopes and sensitive cameras often resolve space objects as discrete points of light, the low-resolution detectors of light such as the human eye see only the combined effect of many such objects. With the increasing light pollution in the Earth’s orbit, the overall increase in the diffuse brightness of the night sky potentially obscures sights such as the glowing clouds of stars in the Milky Way.
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