The Steward Observatory LEO Satellite Photometric Survey

Harrison Krantz, Eric C. Pearce, Adam Block

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The Steward Observatory LEO Satellite Photometric Survey is a comprehensive observational survey to characterize the apparent brightness of the Starlink and OneWeb low Earth orbit satellites and evaluate the potential impact on astronomy. We report the results of over 16,000 independent measurements of nearly 2800 individual satellites. In addition to photometry, we also measured the astrometric position of each satellite and evaluated the accuracy of predicting satellite position with the available two-line element sets. The apparent brightness of a satellite seen in the sky is not constant and depends on the Sun-satellite-observer geometry. To capture this, we designed the survey to create an all-geometries set of measurements to fully characterize the brightness of each population of satellites as seen in the sky. We visualize the data with sky-plots that show the correlation of apparent brightness with on-sky position and relative Sun-satellite-observer geometry. The sky-plots show where in the sky the satellites are brightest. In addition to visual magnitudes, we also present two new metrics: the expected photon flux and the effective albedo. The expected photon flux metric assesses the potential impact on astronomy sensors by predicting the flux for a satellite trail in an image from a theoretical 1 m class telescope and sensor. The effective albedo metric assesses where a satellite is more reflective than baseline, which ties to the physical structure of the satellite and indicates the potential for brightness-reducing design changes. We intend to use this methodology and resulting data to inform the astronomy community about satellite brightness. Observing programs use a variety of telescopes and instruments and look at different parts of the sky. With the expected photon flux metric and a complete all-sky characterization of satellite brightness, observers can evaluate the potential impacts to their projects and possibly avoid the worst effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number095003
JournalPublications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific
Issue number1051
StatePublished - Sep 1 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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