(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The article was originally published at The Conversation.

Karlie Noon is an astronomer at the Australian National University.

All visible objects in the night sky have been observed and tracked by Indigenous peoples since time immemorial.

The ancient star knowledge was passed down through generations and was meticulously ingrained with practical knowledge of the land, sky, waters, community and the Dreaming.

One of the most well-known and celebrated Aboriginal constellations is the Emu in the Sky, which appears in the southern sky early in the year. It is an example of a dark constellation, which means it is characterized by dark patches in the sky.

Starlink is competing to dominate the skies and potentially change them forever.

The modern-day space race has led to thousands of satellites being scattered through Earth's outer orbits. If left unaddressed, these companies risk overpopulating an already crowded space environment that could push dark skies to extinction.


There are groupings of satellites that communicate and work together.

The Starlink project, run by Musk, has launched about 1,700 satellites. Over the next decade, the company plans to launch another 30,000.

British company OneWeb has launched nearly 150 satellites. There will be an additional 3,000 satellites launched by Amazon.

A growing number of Starlink satellites can be found in low orbit around Earth.

A growing number of Starlink satellites can be found in low orbit around Earth. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

The companies are taking to the skies to increase internet access. Even if they deliver on this, sky gazers are left to wonder: what cost?

Streaks in the night

After the first Starlink launch, people across the globe began to notice streaks in the sky. They were unlike anything anyone had seen before.

Astronomers are used to seeing the sky and dealing with interference from aircraft or satellites. The goal of mega-constellations is to leave no place untouched. Our collective view of the stars is changed by mega-constellations. There is no known way to remove them.

One mega-constellation has been observed to produce up to 19 parallel streaks across the sky. A lot of scientific data can be lost because of these streaks.

Satellites can leave streaks in the night sky.

Satellites can leave streaks in the night sky. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

As they travel across the entire sky, scattering the sun's light, dark constellations become even fainter, further degrading Indigenous knowledge and kinship with the environment.

The sun's rays are reflected off by mega-constellations and scattered into the atmosphere.

The authors of that study conclude that we are collectively experiencing a new type of skyglow due to human-made light pollution.

The new source of light pollution has increased the brightness of night skies by 10%, compared to the 1960's, according to initial calculations.

The upper limit of light pollution at observatories is 10% above the natural skyglow, which suggests we have already reached it.

Scientific observations of the sky are at risk of being rendered redundant. observatories are at serious risk if skyglow increases even more.

Indigenous sky sovereignty

Indigenous knowledge systems and oral traditions teach us about the intricate and complex relationships Indigenous peoples have with the environment.

For example, many aboriginal and taros Strait Islander cultures have no concept of outer space, they only have a continuous and connected reality.

Sky Country is an ongoing colonization of the lifeworlds of all those who have ongoing connections as captured by the Bawaka Country group.

The destruction of the sky affects Indigenous sovereignty as it limits access to their knowledge system, in the same way that the destruction of the land has removed First Peoples from their countries, cultures and ways of life.

When it is time to stop hunting for emu eggs in New South Wales, the Gamilaraay and Wiradjuri peoples watch the emu in the sky. How would the Gamilaraay know when to stop collecting eggs and when to conduct annual ceremonies if they could not see it anymore?

The Seven Sisters constellation contains important parts of the Dreaming of the Martu people of Western Australia. How would they keep this knowledge safe if they can&t find any of the Sisters?

Indigenous histories teach us about the devastating consequences of colonization, and how the impacts of the colonial agenda can be mitigated through the health of the country and community.

The manner and pace of near-Earth space raises the risk of repeating the mistakes of colonization.

Sky country is a part of active Indigenous sky sovereignty that acknowledges the nature of land and sky. It challenges the authority of technology corporations.

Harming fauna, harming ourselves

By understanding that the world is connected, we can see that no living creature is immune to the consequences of pollution.

Due to the impacts of light-pollution, native fauna such as the tammar wallaby, magpie, bogong moth and marine turtles are experiencing a reduction in populations and quality of life.

The tammar wallaby is just one Australian species affected by light pollution.

The tammar wallaby is just one Australian species affected by light pollution. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Going forward

Several companies are trying to reduce the impact of mega-constellations on skyglow.

OneWeb has decided to roll out fewer satellites than initially proposed, and has designed them to be positioned at a higher altitude. They will produce less skyglow while also covering a larger area.

Starlink has not shown any public interest in operating at higher altitudes for fear that it will impact the network.

They have painted their satellites with a novel anti-reflective coating. A reduction in reflected sunlight has been demonstrated by coating techniques. Not all of the light being scattered is reduced using this method. Different species of animals are still at risk.

We need more solutions to navigate our polluted atmosphere if communication monopolies continue to restrict near-Earth space.

All space tech companies must be held responsible for adding to an already polluted space, just as they have started considering tactics to avoid increasing skyglow.

There are guidelines set by the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee. They suggest lowering the height of a satellite when it is no longer needed.

There is no legal framework to enforce these practices.

Reducing the amount of space debris floating above must now be a priority, given that near-miss collision have already taken place between some mega-constellations and an estimated 20,000 pieces of space debris already floating above.

Reducing air pollutants has been shown to decrease natural sky brightness and offer a potential solution for improving night sky visibility.

The value of Indigenous knowledge systems must be extended to the natural environment in which they are embedded. Dark skies are important for the continuation of Indigenous knowledge and astronomy in Australia.

One of the major tenets of life for Indigenous peoples is the value of their actions. We could create a reality in which we are not a threat to our own survival if we adopted this at a larger scale.

The article is licensed under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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