This is why astronomers are warning about losing the night sky
TORONTO -- Experts are warning that there appears to be nowhere left on Earth where astronomers can view the stars and planets without light pollution caused by satellites.
Sam Lawler, an associate professor at the University of Regina, says the darkness that astronomers and stargazers rely on is becoming harder to find due to the increase in "very reflective" satellites being sent into low orbit.
"The light pollution from satellites is global -- there's nowhere that you can get away from it," Lawler told CTV's Your Morning on Friday.
Lawler said the satellites causing the most recent problems are those launched by Elon Musk's SpaceX as part of its Starlink internet service.
"Just a few satellites is not a problem, but when all of a sudden there are thousands or tens of thousands of them reflecting sunlight, then that starts to change the way the night sky looks and we're right on the threshold of that," Lawler said.
Lawler said the number of low-flying satellites has "increased dramatically" in the last year, "almost entirely due to Starlink launches."
Lawler, who studies Kuiper Belt objects such as the planet Pluto, said these objects are 15 million times fainter than the Starlink satellites, hampering hers and other astronomers' work.
"They're launching more satellites every two to three weeks [in] batches of 60, so they want to get to 42,000 satellites when currently there's only a few thousand," she said.
"So this will very much change the way the night sky looks."
According to a study published in March, researchers with the Royal Astronomical Society found that the number of objects orbiting Earth, including satellites and space debris, could elevate the overall brightness of the night sky by more than 10 per cent above natural light levels across the majority of planet.
The study reported that this would exceed a threshold that astronomers set more than 40 years ago for considering a location "light polluted."
A 2016 study also reported that 80 per cent of North Americans and 60 per cent of Europeans can no longer see the glowing band of the Milky Way because of the impact of artificial lighting.
Lawler acknowledged that there are "significant benefits" to these satellites, including internet access for those in remote communities. However, she said people in remote areas also have a "very good view of the night sky," and will have to give that up in return.
To help tackle the issue and protect the night sky, Lawler says there needs to be international regulation of space.
"We need to recognize that low Earth orbit is an environment that's intimately connected to our atmosphere, so that has to happen at the international level," Lawler said.
Lawler said Canada can also aid in reducing light pollution by implementing regulations that require communication services to take into account the negative impacts of satellites.