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Elon Musk's Starlink satellites are already giving astronomers a headache



Astronomers at a Chilean observatory were roughly interrupted earlier this week when a SpaceX satellite train consisting of 60 Starlink satellites floated above their heads, which scientists seem to have accepted as a new normality.

The Starlink-Smallsat train launched into orbit on November 11 crossed the Interamerican Observatory of Cerro Tololo in Chile astronomer Clarae for five minutes Martínez-Vázquez.

"Wow !! I am shocked !! "Martínez-Vázquez tweeted. "The huge amount of Starlink satellites crossed our skies tonight at [Cerro Tololo]. Our DECam exposure [Dark Energy Camera] was heavily influenced by 19 of them! To which she added: "rather depressing … That's not cool! "

This tweet was responded to by astronomer Cliff Johnson, a team member and CIERA postdoctoral fellow in Astronomy at Northwestern, and tweeted a look at the disturbed data with a series of satellite traces scattered across an image of the room.

As part of the DELVE Survey astronomers collected data using the DECam instrument, a high-performance wide-field imager at the CTIO Blanco 4- meter telescope mapping the outer edges of large and small Magellanic Clouds and a significant part of the southern sky at optical wavelengths. The main objective of the project is to study the Starlite around the Magellanic Clouds and discover new dwarf galaxies in orbit around the clouds or the nearby Milky Way galaxy.

The Starlink tarnished DECam frame shows satellite traces across the field of view.
Image : Clara Martínez-Vázquez, Cliff Johnson, CTIO / AURA / NSF

However, this investigation was interrupted when the Starlink train left Monda overhead y, 18th of November.

"In this case, 1 out of about 40 shots we took during our half-night observation were affected by the satellite trails," Johnson told . Gizmodo in an email. "In this single exposure, a maximum of 15 percent of the image was affected by the tracks. Beyond the image itself, we also had to be careful, as the trace-affected image also affected our surveying operations due to the large number of image artifacts that affected our quality control measurements.

Overall, "These figures tend to show that the impact on our science is more due to harassment than to total disruption," he wrote . That is, "this can only be the beginning of problems for astronomers, so I believe that the response and the alarm of the community are justified." Should the proposed sizes of these satellite mega-constellations – which are projected to span more than tens of thousands of individual elements – be actually achieved, "this has the potential to significantly impact our observation data," said Johnson.

A similar event occurred earlier this year after the first batch of 60 Starlink satellites had been put into orbit, with some people even thinking they were UFOs. The US Astronomical Society warned through the first series of Starlink satellites that mega constellations could jeopardize scientific observations of space. The train effect, in which the satellites are lined up neatly in a bright series, is a passing one. Eventually, the Smallsats disperse and enter their own orbits in a process that lasts several weeks. However, the number of objects in space – scattered or not – will increase dramatically.

The impact of these satellite trains is currently "manageable" and the "worst transient effects," Johnson told Gizmodo.

"I agree with the tone of the recent IAU Declaration which calls for an immediate and meaningful discussion between regulators, satellite providers, and astronomers to identify ways to minimize the impact on astronomy – and not just visually But also radio astronomy – and exclude the worst – scenarios of unlimited takeoffs and unchecked missions, "Johnson told Gizmodo.

In response to these concerns, SpaceX has announced that it is taking steps to color the base of Starlink satellites black to minimize their brightness. Experts are not convinced that this will work because some observatories use hypersensitive instruments to detect even the weakest objects.

Sc Ientists will probably have to get used to these kinds of disorders, as regulators are not willing to listen. SpaceX has already received approval from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch 12,000 Starlink smallsats, and in October Elon Musk-led private space company asked the FCC for permission to There are also 30,000 satellites to the mid-2020s. These satellite trains, along with their associated mega-constellations, will soon become an integral part of the night sky – and this does not include constellations to be built by SpaceX competitors, including OneWeb, Telsat, and proposed Amazon networks.

As the starry night is already obscured by the light pollution of our cities, an unobstructed view of space soon seems to escape astronomers as well.


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