Just a few days ago Elon Musk claimed that his Starlink satellites won’t create higher light pollution and negatively affect astronomy. But is it true? Could thousands of extraterrestrial flying objects be invisible and not do any harm? Will this project change the night sky forever?
Even though the Starlink is positive about it, the astrophotographers, astronomers or even NASA are very skeptical. And here is why.
What are Starlink satellites?
Starlink is an American company owned by SpaceX which was found by Elon Musk in 2002. The main goal of Starlink is to provide satellite internet access into the areas where the internet is not accessible or too expensive for users.
The company wants to launch 12 000 satellites into the low Earth orbit (LEO) by the end of 2027. The satellites are taken to the orbit with the partially reusable Falcon 9 rockets. One flight can take a cargo of 60 satellites and it is planned to launch them every two weeks throughout the next years. As of today, there are 362 Starlink satellites launched.
According to the latest rumors, Elon Musk already filed paperwork to enlarge the constellation by additional 30 000 satellites. If this will be approved, Starlink will have altogether 42 000 satellites in the orbit. This will make it the biggest satellite constellation out there.
Just for your information, the first satellite was launched in 1957 and today there are just a bit more than 2200 artificial satellites in the space.
Even though the project is not finished yet, the Starlink satellites are already visible from Earth. Many astrophotographers and astronomers claim that the Starlink is killing astronomy making it very hard to see outer space through the space junk.
Wow!! I am in shock!! The huge amount of Starlink satellites crossed our skies tonight at @cerrotololo. Our DECam exposure was heavily affected by 19 of them! The train of Starlink satellites lasted for over 5 minutes!! Rather depressing… This is not cool! pic.twitter.com/gK0ekbpLJe— Clarae Martínez-Vázquez (@89Marvaz) November 18, 2019
After the criticism from the astronomical community, Elon Musk and the SpaceX representatives, repeatedly stated that the Starlink satellites will have a very small impact on astronomy. Also, there are few statements about Starlink changing the coating of the satellites for a less reflective one.
But to be very honest, that’s hard to believe. Just look at how the night sky observation looks now. Some experts already stated that even the upgraded satellites are still visible.
All those lines on the photos actually represent the Starlink satellites on the orbit. They are most visible after the launch when the satellites fly in the chain.
And if you are curious about how it will look like once all the 12 000 satellites are out there check out this simulation. You can basically say hello to a calm night sky and star observation.
If you want to help and document this problem NASA just launched a project created by its educators. The Satelite Streak Watcher project is for everyone with a modern smartphone or a camera and a tripod.
It is enough to take a photo and upload it to the website. All the steps about how to find the satellites, how to take or upload the photos are published on the website. The main goal of the project is to document and study how big the problem actually is. And you can join the project too.
Conclusion – who owns the sky?
To be very honest this project would be great if it would be a solution for the whole of mankind. To me, it simply seems that the main goal of it is to enrich Elon Musk and his investors.
Anyway, the whole idea of a few people owning and ruling the sky is wrong. People should freely decide what they want to do with it. But as we see, we live in times where the few “chosen” ones can do whatever they want. It is enough to have several billion dollars in the bank accounts and you can even have 42 000 satellites in the space.
At the end of the day, it would be really nice if our grandkids would have the chance to observe the sky without the thousands of satellites on the orbit. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look very promising.
Featured image credit: Getty Images