Readers ask about satellite traffic jams and coronavirus

March 28, 2020 cover

Space jam

Fleets of satellites launched to expand global internet access are interfering with telescopes and astronomy research, Christopher Crockett reported in “An obstructed view” (SN: 3/28/20, p. 24).

Reader Michael Brostek asked if researchers could use small satellites to build telescopes that orbit above the o­bstructing satellites. “With the proliferation of small satellites, could ‘huge’ [telescopes] be built … that would be better than the best ground scopes?” Brostek asked.

Launching telescopes above the offending satellites is certainly an option, but it is more of a plan B at this point, Crockett says. As for launching many small satellites to act as a big telescope, “plans come and go, but never seem to get off the ground,” he says. The feat would require building an interferometer in space, where two or more telescopes line up their incoming light waves to act as one telescope. “That’s hard enough to do on the ground, and no one has done it in space yet,” he says.

If the astronomy community decides to go that route, a lot of incredible science could be done. “You could build optical and infrared telescopes with a resolution equal to a telescope the size of Earth or bigger!” Crockett says.


Science News reporters Tina Hesman Saey, Aimee Cunningham, Jonathan L­ambert and Erin Garcia de Jesus are f­ollowing the latest research to keep you up to date on the coronavirus pandemic. The team is answering reader questions about COVID-19.

Blood plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 c­ontains antibodies that may help treat patients infected with the virus (SN: 4/25/20, p. 6). A reader who wished to remain anonymous asked how many people could be treated by the plasma from one r­ecovered COVID-19 patient.

The plasma donated from one person who has recovered from COVID-19 can treat around two to four people. That’s why officials are working to ramp up the plasma donation process.

On April 3, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced an expanded access program to coordinate the collection and distribution of plasma around the country. Patients who are hospitalized and have severe illness, or are at high risk of developing life-threatening symptoms, are eligible to receive plasma through this program and must be enrolled by their doctors.