US cellphone expansion could deafen radio astronomers

A plan to expand the wireless spectrum could pull the curtains further over radio astronomers' window on the sky

GOOD news for cellphone users, bad news for astronomers. American plans to clear bandwidth for wireless transmissions could interfere with quiet frequencies used in radio astronomy.

Last week, the White House announced plans to free up 500 megahertz of the electromagnetic spectrum over the next 10 years for devices like phones. This could triple existing cellphone capacity, says Andrew Clegg of the US National Science Foundation.

Plans to free up 500 megahertz of bandwidth could triple existing cellphone capacity

But it may also make observations trickier for radio astronomers. Within the most coveted region of the radio spectrum, below 10 gigahertz, they are allocated 49 MHz of bandwidth and share another 58 MHz with others.

The exclusive bands are unlikely to shrink, but the shared region will probably be more crowded, says Clegg. Spillover from transmitters using other parts of the spectrum is also expected to rise.

Issue 2768 of New Scientist magazine