Some of you might have heard that the skies will never be the same again…
If not, I would suggest you follow up the Space X micro-satellites story more closely.
Elon Musks’s company has decided to launch a constellation of 42,000 micro-satellites in the skies, so as to provide Internet services to everyone on the planet. This constellation will be called StarLink and has caused astronomer’s to have nightmares for many days now. So far Musk’s company has launched 120 of those satellites (the actual number doen’s play a role, since it will change as we speak). To understand the magnitude of the endeavor, note that from the beginning of the space age until now, we have put around 8,000 satellites in orbit! But the problem is not just a problem of potential space junk and troubles in handling and managing the satellites traffic in space (ESA has already once diverted one of its satellites to avoid collision with a StarLink satellite). By the way, note that also other companies like Amazon are planning to put into the skies similar constellations of satellites.
The main problem arises from the fact that the satellites are too close to Earth (around 550 km) and too reflective (and thus, too bright). This causes extreme problems for astronomy. Telescopes are used to avoid satellites in orbit when taking photographs of the sky. However this would be one satellite at some point interfering with one photo. Now there are dozens (and in the future thousands) of such satellites literally destroying any observations astronomers try to make, by leaving a bright trail of light in the photographs astronomers take. The picture below is indicative of the problem.
Similar problems arise when amateur astronomers take long-exposure photos of the sky…
And last but not least, at their peak, the StarLink constellation will be visible with the naked eye and whenever you look at the stars it will be like you are looking at a video game with many small dots passing fast through the dark sky between the stars. (actually the total number of StarLink satellites is much higher than the number of visible stars which is in rough approximation 9,000)
Note: Musk is trying to find a solution to the problem, but of course after it is created. He already launched a satellite which was painted black on its belly, so as to evaluate whether this could be a solution to the problem.
So there you go my dear friends.
We ruined the Earth. And now we will ruin the sky as well.
Take a look at the sky to-night. For it will never be the same again. And then go back to Earth. And plant a tree. Cover your hands in dirt. This is your way up to the stars. Stars which you saw perfectly long before there were any telescopes.
Heidegger had said so a long time ago.
The problem with technology is not that it doesn’t work.
But that it does…
Related articles & sources
- SpaceX tests black satellite to reduce ‘megaconstellation’ threat to astronomy (Nature)
- Starlink ‘train’ traces path across twilight skies (Spaceflight Now)
- The night sky is increasingly dystopian (Vox)
- SpaceX Starlink satellites could be ‘existential threat’ to astronomy (New Scientist)