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How Self-Driving Cars Could Mess With Astronomers Too

Photo: AP, Wikimedia Commons
Photo: AP, Wikimedia Commons

As more autonomous vehicles hitting our roadways, they’ll be carrying with them an extra load of sensors and radars that, as it turns out, could be a problem for astronomers, according to a new article from Science Magazine.


The story, which can be previewed here, highlights remarks from a number of speakers at last month’s annual American Astronomical Society meeting.

According to the magazine, Harvey Listz, who works at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Virginia, said a single self-driving car could interfere with a sensitive radio telescope “even at 100 kilometers away.”


The story includes references to similar concerns over new energy-saving streetlights and internet services. But most attention seems to be pointed at automakers.

In 2015, Science Magazine reports, automakers and radio astronomers duked it out at the International Telecommunication Union, where nations apportion the radio spectrum to a bevy of users, and the auto industry won. The story says the

ITU gave companies the right to use frequencies close to some that are important to astronomers for the radars key to automated collision-avoidance systems. Despite the industry’s earlier assurances that it would work with astronomers to protect radio observatories— perhaps by enabling drivers to switch off car radars close to radio telescopes— researchers failed to win such commitments in the latest round of frequency allocations. “The [commercial] pressure was too great,” Liszt says.

Just what the auto industry needs: a group of fired up scientists.

Senior Reporter, Jalopnik/Special Projects Desk

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Harold Demure (From Art Literature)

The NRAO is in West Virginia, no?