For the modern astronomer, satellites are just part of life. Currently, more than 2,000 active people revolve around the Earth, and the most intelligent minds in space photography have managed to develop tricky ways to remove random flights from their space images.
But there is Starlink. The first stages of the SpaceX plan to launch up to 42,000 satellites, to provide the Earth with full Internet coverage, have currently covered 122 objects; after the first big launch in May, astronomers were worried.
Now there was a second launch, and their fears really began to come true.
Wow !! I'm in shock! A huge number of Starlink satellites crossed our sky tonight @cerrotololo, Our exposure to DECam was greatly influenced by 19 of them! The Starlink satellite train lasted more than 5 minutes !! Rather depressing … It's not cool! pic.twitter.com/gK0ekbpLJe
– Clara Martinez-Vazquez (@ 89Marvaz) November 18, 2019
Early in the morning of November 18, at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in northern Chile, a trace from the recently launched Starlink satellites flew overhead, completely filling the image captured by the Dark Energy camera (DECam).
Each of these dashed lines in the image below is a Starlink satellite.
With about 40 images of the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds, the SpaceX StarX satellite train came into view of the camera about 90 minutes before sunrise, shining brightly in the early morning sunlight and for five minutes to get out of the scope of the telescope.
"Wow! I'm shocked, ”wrote CTIO astronomer Clara Martinez-Vazquez on twitterShe noted that there were 19 satellite tracks, which is much larger than a regular satellite.
Although most of the time the satellites will be dark in the night sky (which still creates some problems), immediately after sunset or in the early morning when the sky is still black, sunlight can still hit satellites, making them visible like on fantastic astronomical telescopes, and on ordinary old binoculars.
“These things are so big that when they are lit by the sun, they are bright enough to take anything from binoculars and more,” said Forbes Sis Bassa of the Netherlands Institute of Radio Astronomy.
And astronomers are not impressed. As we reported earlier, they raised some serious issues with Starlink. First, there will be many such objects in orbit that can significantly affect how astronomers can see and listen to the sky.
“A complete constellation of Starlink satellites is likely to mark the end of terrestrial microwave radio telescopes that can scan the sky for faint radio objects,” said Alan Duffy, an astronomer at Swinburne University, in an interview with ScienceAlert in May after the first launch of Starlink satellites.
The second batch of 60 Starlink satellites was launched a little over a week ago on November 11, so they have not yet reached their final working height – but this height is expected to be lower than for the first batch.
Sky watchers also find that Starlink is more reflective than other satellites. If thousands of additional satellites were no longer a problem in their own right, then that they are very shiny, this is just another thing that makes astronomers pull their hair.
I agree, last week I sent a note to the Starlink team, in particular, about reducing the albedo. We will get a better idea of this when the satellites have lifted their orbits, and the arrays are watching the sun.
– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 27, 2019
Astronomers can remove traces from their images when Starlink appears before their eyes, but most of the information used by scientists is contained in raw images, and not in the beautiful photographs that we see. In addition, one is to remove one satellite trace from the image, and the other to delete 19.
So far, some people are coping with this by making fun of Elon Musk from SpaceX on social networks.
– 💫 Astro Noel @ (@astro_noel) November 18, 2019
How astronomers and SpaceX will resolve these conflicting needs is not yet known, but if two more launches are planned this year, it is likely that this will not be the last time we hear about this problem.