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Ex-NASA expert fears Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites may be weakening Earth’s magnetic field and poisoning humanity

Ex-NASA expert fears Elon Musk's Starlink satellites may be weakening Earth's magnetic field and poisoning humanity

A scientist who used to work for NASA says that cheap satellite “megaconstellations” like Elon Musk’s Starlink could mess up Earth’s magnetosphere, letting harmful cosmic rays reach all living things.

Musk’s SpaceX is launching over 2,755 pounds (1.3 tons) of internet satellite debris into Earth’s atmosphere every hour, according to new figures. This is making a metal layer of “conductive particulate” in space.

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“I was shocked,” scientist Dr. Solter-Hunt told DailyMail.com. “The buildup of metal dust from the space industry hasn’t been looked into very much.”

Astronomers last guessed in March that there are 5,504 Starlink satellites in orbit, with 5,442 of them being able to serve. But plans call for tens of thousands more.

Satellite Graveyard Threat: Could Space Junk Disrupt Earth’s Magnetic Shield?

Physicists say that when these satellites reach the end of their useful lives, their debris could “distort or trap the magnetic field” that keeps Earth’s atmosphere from escaping. This is because of all the highly conductive metal trash that is settling in one area.

“Atmospheric stripping” could happen, just like what happened to Mars and Mercury in the past, even though she says it is an “extreme case.”

In 2012, Dr. Solter-Hunt worked on NASA’s Stardust spacecraft study team that caught comets. She then spent three years at the US Air Force study Laboratory.

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In that place, she looked at how electromagnetic waves affect plasma clouds in low-Earth orbit (LEO), which is where Starlink’s orbital network is located in the upper atmosphere. She now advises on how space weather affects the aircraft business.

Dr. Solter-Hunt told DailyMail.com, “There are about 10,000 satellites in orbit right now, but there will probably be 100,000 in 10 to 15 years.”

She said, “By the time we get to 100,000, I think it might be too late for this unplanned geoengineering experiment that is going to happen.”

She is worried because the weight of these tiny pieces of metal junk is already much higher than the weight of the charged particles that protect Earth from cosmic radiation.

The largest part of Earth’s magnetosphere that we know of is made up of the Van Allen Belts, which are two donut-shaped areas of small particles that are charged by cosmic radiation from the sun.

The belts start at the North and South Poles of Earth, which are electrically charged.

Van Allen Belts’ Tiny Mass Dwarfed by Potential Impact of Satellite Debris

The Van Allen Belts have a total mass of 0.0004 lbs, which is a very small amount compared to the metal pieces that could cut this important area off from Earth.

In her new work, which was posted to Cornell’s arXiv, she says, “The masses of other parts of the magnetosphere (ring current, plasmasphere, etc.) are not widely estimated but are less dense than the Van Allen Belts.”

In other words, the magnetosphere is very light and has a low mass. This means that a lot of heavy satellite junk could have a huge, never-before-seen effect.

She told DailyMail.com, “I think we need to stop using the ionosphere and atmosphere as a trash can for the space industry right away.”

Research astronomers and satellite competitors have complained to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about SpaceX’s Starlink intentions in recent years.

Astronomers worry that the company’s space trash could permanently damage ground-based observatories, ending space research.

After reviewing SpaceX’s Gen2 satellite plans on November 29, 2022, the FCC stated that “nearly 30,000 Starlink satellites will disrupt the entire field of astronomical research.” Academic researchers’ criticisms were summarized here.

Scientists like Dr. Samantha Lawler, a professor of planetary science in Canada, and Dr. Meredith Rawls, a researcher at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, wrote letters to the agency to voice their worries.

Dr. Solter-Hunt told DailyMail.com, “When I heard Dr. Lawler […] talk about how no one knew what could happen when satellite re-entries start to create debris regularly,” she wanted to learn more about it for her PhD in plasma physics.

But some planetary and astrophysicist scientists aren’t sure about the worst-case scenario that the new paper suggests.

Rocket Realities? Researcher Says Space Industry May Overestimate Launch Rates

Live Science talked to researcher Fionagh Thompson at Durham University in the UK. She said that Dr. Solter-Hunt’s predictions for the number of future satellites “seems exaggerated,” because companies tend to overstate how quickly they can launch rockets.

According to her, the study is a “interesting thought experiment,” but it shouldn’t be taken as proof that “this is what will happen.”

A planetary scientist and magnetosphere expert at the University of Rochester in New York, Dr. John Tarduno, strongly disagreed with the new paper’s idea that the amount of metal junk could build up to the point where it forms a magnetic shield around Earth and blocks its Van Allen Belts.

“A continuous conductive shell like a true magnetic shield is unlikely,” Dr. Tarduno said, “even at the densities [of spacecraft dust] that were talked about.”

He said that some of the study’s ideas were not likely to be true because they were “too simple.”

But Dr. Solter-Hunt told DailyMail.com that her critics haven’t been able to show how her basic idea is wrong, even though she has asked for more constructive feedback.

She said, “I asked some of them for more information on how I could improve my research, but they didn’t know how I could improve my study on electrostatic signatures.” “Or they were out of reach.”

“At this point, I don’t think there are any real scientific critics,” she said, “and the paper is still going through peer review.”

Is Space Junk Raining Down on Us? New Study Examines Spacecraft Dust in Earth’s Atmosphere

Dr. Lawler, a scientist at the University of Regina in Canada, gave her the idea for her research. He called the new study “a really important first step” that brings attention to the “terrifying” amount of spacecraft dust that is building up in Earth’s atmosphere.

Dr. Lawler said, “The effects of this satellite pollution could also be very different from what we’re used to thinking about.”

The DailyMail.com has asked SpaceX’s PR team for a comment and will make changes to this article if they reply.

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