Astronomers great woe of 2019

Image credit: Image: © 2016 Synertone Communication Corporation

While many people in the astronomy community have been up in arms in 2019 regarding the planned expansion of communication satellite constellations, others are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to the intentions of various corporations on placing tens of thousands of these in various orbital altitudes. 

Besides the issues and concerns people have, companies like SpaceX and OneWeb promise huge benefits such as providing fast internet to remote areas as well as to airplanes and shipping. It is claimed that the network will be as much as 50% faster than fibre optic delivery of internet, supported by the fact that light moves through space much faster than through what is essentially glass. Outside of main urban centres around the world, it is quite common for people to still have issues with accessing reliable high-speed internet, these constellations could change all of that. 

Below is a video posted on YouTube of 60 Starlink satellites orbiting over the Netherlands shortly after launch on 24/05/2019. Notice the time stamp on the video (22:55 24/05/19) On that date sunset was 21:42 in Amsterdam (I Picked Amsterdam as referent point, The Netherlands is a pretty small country so not much difference in sunset time).

Credit: Dr. Marco Langbroek (sattrackcam.blogspot.com) YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytUygPqjXEc

Another video posted on YouTube in December 2019 shows a guy in the Brecon Beacons South Wales shooting the sky with a clickbait title: Astronomy is Doomed! Come on man!, astronomy is not doomed. Also if you watch the video you can see in the background plenty of planes taking off and landing, these have lights, flashing ones!!! Also again, he’s out between 5 and 6 am, a couple of hours before sunrise, if he went out at 1am, would he even see them? The video can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfUmeCBvIQ0&feature=youtu.be Maybe it is a big issue for some people, but I personally do not believe that astronomy is doomed.

These corporations have a responsibility to ensure space debris does not increase as a result of these plans, although it most likely will. The impacts on science could be significant with the IAU (International Astronomical Union) voicing their concerns, see here for more.

As for the impacts on me, there hasn’t really been any so far. I rarely go out at dusk or dawn with the scopes which is when the light from the Sun will be most reflective on satellites, usually it’s several hours after sunset between the months of September and April. Also, imaging makes up less than 10% of my activities, so a very low impact there too.

One thing’s for sure this is not going to go away, we will need to find new innovative ways to adapt and no doubt we will. 

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