For modern astronomers, satellites are just part of life. There are currently more than 2,000 active orbiting the Earth, and the brightest minds in space photography have managed to work out clever ways to remove occasional flying from their space images.
But then there's Starlink. The first phases of SpaceX's plan to launch up to 42,000 satellites to provide full Earth-to-Earth coverage, so far, had 122 objects; after the first major launch in May, astronomers were worried.
Now the second launch has taken place and their worries have really started to materialize.
Wow !! I'm in shock !! An enormous amount of Starlink satellites crossed our skies tonight @cerrotololo. Our DECEM exposure was strongly affected by 19 of them! The Starling Link Satellite Train lasted over 5 minutes !! Instead of depressed … This is not cool! pic.twitter.com/gK0ekbpLJe
– Clara Martinez-Vazquez (@ 89Marvaz) November 18, 2019
Early in the morning of November 18 at the Inter-American Observatory of Ferro Tololo (FTIO) in North Chile, the path above the newly opened Starlin satellites flew overhead, completely filling the image taken by the Dark EnergyM camera.
Each of those paths with the dotted line in the image below is a Starling satellite.
As it received about 40 exposures to the low and high Magellanic Clouds, SpaceX's Starlining satellite train entered the camera's vision about 90 minutes before sunrise, shining a light in the early morning light and it took five minutes for it to pass beyond the telescope's view.
“Wow !! I'm in shock, "wrote astronomer KTIO Clara Martinez-Vasquez. on Twitter. She noted that there are 19 satellite tracks, which is far more than just a satellite crossing.
Although most of the time the satellites will be dark in the night sky (which still presents some problems), as soon as the sun sets, or early in the morning when the sky is still black, sunlight can still hit the satellites, making them visible. both with fancy astronomy telescopes and regular old binoculars.
"These things are big enough that when they are sunny, they are bright enough to collect something from binoculars and larger," Sis Bassa of the Dutch Institute of Radio Astronomy told Forbes.
Astronomers are not impressed. As we reported earlier, they brought some major issues with Starlink. First, there will be many of these objects in orbit, which can dramatically affect the way astronomers can see and hear the sky.
"The full constellation of Starling satellites is likely to mean the end of Earth-based microwave radio telescopes capable of scanning the skies for weak radio objects," University of Swinburne astronomer Alan Duffy told ScienceAlert in May after the first. launch of the Starlink satellites.
The second batch of 60 Starlink satellites was launched just over a week ago on November 11, so they have not yet reached their final operational altitude – but that elevation is expected to be lower than that for the first batch.
Sky viewers also find that Starlink is more reflective than other satellites. If thousands of extra satellites were no longer a problem on their own, the fact that they are extra luminous is just another thing astronomers do away with.
Agreed, last week sent a note to the Starling team specifically about reducing albedo. We get a better sense of value for this when the satellites orbit and the arrows follow the sun.
– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 27, 2019
Astronomers can remove paths from their images when Starling is in view, but much of the information scientists use is contained in crude images, not in the beautiful photos we see. Additionally, one is to remove a single satellite trace from the image and the other to remove 19.
So far, some people are having fun with Elon El Musk of SpaceX on social media.
– 💫 Astro Noel (@astro_noel) November 18, 2019
How astronomers and SpaceX will address these opposing needs is not yet known, but with two more launches this year, there is a chance this may not be the last we hear about this problem.