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Pollution is endangering the future of astronomy

Technological advances are making it harder to see the night sky

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1:27pm, January 12, 2018
night sky panorama

SKY GLOW  This panoramic view of the night sky from Meteor Crater in Arizona shows how light from Winslow, Phoenix and Flagstaff (left to right, starting at 90°) makes it harder to see the stars.   

OXON HILL, Md. — Even as technological advances allow astronomers to peer more deeply into the cosmos than ever before, new technologies also have the potential to create blinding pollution.

Three sources of pollution — space debris, radio interference and light pollution — already are particularly worrisome. And the situation is getting worse. In the next two decades, as many as 20,000 satellites could be launched into low Earth orbit, LEDs will become the dominant source of artificial light, and fifth-generation mobile networks will fill radio frequencies, speakers warned during the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society. These sources of pollution could prevent astronomers from getting a clear look at the night sky, limiting the sensitivity and accuracy of their measurements.

Space debris is perhaps the most nascent form of human pollution. But only six decades after Sputnik's launch into pristine skies, the orbit

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