Hubble’s orbit has fallen to 333 miles since 1990, affecting its images

So low that Starlink satellites have started photobombing its images.
Can Emir
Satellite trails on space telescope images
Satellite trails on space telescope images

Kruk et al. 

Starlink and other broadband satellite constellations will threaten astronomical viewing in the upcoming years.

Today, a team of astronomers has demonstrated that the satellite issue can't be solved even by the Hubble Space Telescope.

With the deployment of Starlink and other communication satellite constellations, an increasing understanding of their detrimental impact on astronomy has emerged. The expanding number of internet satellites in Earth orbit has been noted as challenging astronomical studies using ground-based observatories by the international astronomy community. These worries are currently affecting Hubble.

A recent study article published in Nature Astronomy details the impact satellites have on Hubble's Low-Earth Orbit astronomical investigations, "The impact of satellite trails on Hubble Space Telescope observations." The study's lead author is Sandor Kruk, a research scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics.

Drag is causing the Hubble's orbit to degrade progressively. It was sent into orbit in 1990 at 340 miles (547 km) from Earth. It has since shrunk to only 333 miles (538 km). As it decays, the telescope becomes more sensitive to a greater variety of satellites above it. The telescope's position, angle, and pointing all affect how sensitive it is.

The authors used machine learning and citizen scientists to evaluate 20 years of Hubble pictures. Their analysis revealed that satellite traces were present in 2.7 percent of Hubble's photos from that era. Nobody should be surprised that when more satellites are launched into orbit, more satellite trails are visible in the photographs over time. Satellite trails are likelier because Hubble photos typically have an 11-minute exposure time. The scientists discovered 144 Hubble photos with several satellite traces. 133 had two trails, ten had three, and one had four.

Given all the information available, the scientists estimated the probability of spotting a satellite trace in any Hubble image taken since 2009. The exposure duration for the graph that follows is 11.2 minutes. The two picture groupings are the Wide Field Camera 3 Ultraviolet channel and the Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS)/Wide Field Camera (WFC). The likelihood of spotting a satellite trace in a picture increased by 59 percent and 71 percent, respectively.

We can't argue how useful satellites are, but their impact on astronomy needs to be discussed.

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