The night sky is peppered with light from stars, planets and other celestial bodies. But now researchers have revealed one of the brightest objects visible from Earth is a communications satellite resembling a Tetris block.
Scientists say while the apparent brightness of BlueWalker 3 is not constant, its peak is on a par with Procyon and Achernar, two of the brightest stars in the night sky.
“After BlueWalker 3 unfolded its 64m2 array it is visible in both dark sky and urban skies, though in urban settings, this will be limited to when Bluewalker 3 passes overhead,” said Dr Jeremy Tregloan-Reed, a co-author of the study at the Universidad de Atacama in Chile.
“Large constellations of bright artificial satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) pose significant challenges to ground-based astronomy,” the study’s authors write.
Tregloan-Reed says, among other problems, a large reflective brightness means when a satellite crosses the detector of a telescope, it leaves a streak that can be difficult, if not impossible, to remove so data in the affected pixels can be recovered.