Look Up While You Still Can – the “Stars” are Changing

Jun 10, 2022 | Daily Space, Sky Watching, Space Policy, Spacecraft, SpaceX, Starlink

IMAGE: An image of the NGC 5353/4 galaxy group made with a telescope at Lowell Observatory in Arizona, USA on the night of Saturday 25 May 2019. The diagonal lines running across the image are trails of reflected light left by more than 25 of the 60 recently launched Starlink satellites as they passed through the telescope’s field of view. CREDIT: Victoria Girgis/Lowell Observatory

Before we get to this week’s “What’s Up” segment, I want to call your attention to a piece in the latest issue of Scientific American that points out that if the currently planned communications constellations like Starlink and OneWeb are completed, one in roughly every fourteen points of light in the sky will actually be a satellite. The way they phrased it was “one in every fourteen stars visible to the naked eye will actually be a satellite.”

After the initial realization that Starlink satellites will wreak havoc on telescopic images, SpaceX agreed to alter their satellite designs so the tiny comsats would reflect less sunlight back to Earth and would appear fainter in the images they affect. The new design was a noticeable improvement, but the most recent launches have stopped using that design; SpaceX is back to the more reflective designs of the past, and it is unclear what has changed.

The pandemic has made dealing with this issue particularly hard. First brought to light at the January 2020 American Astronomical Society meeting in Hawaii, astronomers have been trying to sort out what is going on without the freedom to easily travel or even full access to observatories. As things open up, our profession is gearing up for the tri-annual meeting of the International Astronomical Union. Alongside that meeting will be the launch of websites to help researchers plan their astronomical images around satellites and new tools for folks to collaborate with in trying to convince companies to build missions that cause less light pollution. Some of these websites are up now, and we will link to them at Daily Space.org.

And as I’ve said before, go out and look up before one in fourteen stars is actually a satellite. We have an awesome lineup of things you should go see.

More Information

‘Unsustainable’: How Satellite Swarms Pose a Rising Threat to Astronomy (Scientific American)

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