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Why astronomers worry about the brightness of SpaceX's Starlink satellite mega-constellation



SpaceX plans to launch the second episode of its mega-constellation Starlink on Monday (November 11), and astronomers are waiting to see – exactly what they'll see.

When the company launched its first set of Starlink Internet satellites in May. Those with their eyes fixed on the night sky immediately noticed that the objects were incredibly bright. Professional astronomers feared the satellites would interfere with scientific observations and the appreciation of stars by amateurs astrophysicists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Space.com said. "This kind of was the wake up call ."

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SpaceX and its leader Elon Musk assured astronomers that they would stop disguising themselves as the stars after which they are named once the satellites have settled. McDowell wanted to confirm the correctness of Musk's statement and asked an email list of amateur astronomers to wait for the first Starlink satellites to reach their final orbit and then the brightness of certain satellites with the stars in it compare around them.

These observations began in July. McDowell has not yet conducted a full analysis, but said the preliminary results are worrying as Starlink satellites regularly clock in between 4 and 7, which is bright enough to be seen without a telescope. "The bottom line is that you can see these things over and over," he said.

The first launch of Starlink brought 60 satellites, but that's only a tiny fraction of what SpaceX has described as its long-term plan. Start of tens of thousands of devices in orbit . "When it comes to 30,000 satellites and many at the same time over the horizon," McDowell said. "It will not be just an occasional disturbance, but a continuous one."

McDowell and his colleagues, who specialize in optical astronomy, are not used to ignoring technologies that disguise themselves as astronomy. But it is a position that radio astronomers are familiar with as satellites send data back to their people in radio frequencies. "That was something people realized," he said, "while the light pollution aspect surprised us."

In response to the outcry Musk said in May that he had "sent a note to the Starlink team this past week, which specifically refers to the reduction of albedo," referring to In a separate tweet on this subject, Musk also said that SpaceX does not intend to compromise optical astronomy. "That is, we will make sure that Starlink does not have any significant Has effects on discoveries in astronomy. We're very concerned about science, "he wrote, but McDowell complained that SpaceX did not provide details on what modifications the satellites could endure and how much they would darken, hoping to be able to retake its brightness check, as soon as the Starlink satellites SpaceX wants to launch next week reach their final orbits.

"We can hope this will improve things, but let's see the evidence is in the pudding, right?" he said. All we can do now is go on with what they actually did there. And what they actually set up there are really bright satellites that, if you had many thousands of them, would be a serious change for the US Night Sky . "

McDowell is about more than just Starlink or SpaceX." This whole new dimension of space industrialization means we have to worry about this issue and we should be worried about it 10 years ago, "said he says. "I'm not trying to say that we should not make any mega constellations. But let's take it step by step, let's assess the degree of light pollution and manage it as a resource. "

He hopes the space community will apply general practices on how much light pollution individual projects can cause, in parallel with the existing guidelines for dealing with space debris "We thought we could ignore the space age in astronomy, but it's there," McDowell said, "now we need to take it seriously and look at the implications for ground astronomy."

Email contact Meghan Bartels at [email protected] or follow her @meghanbartels . Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and Facebook .

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(Photo credit: All About Space)


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