SpaceX Starlink Train Lights Up the Sky and Astronomers Complain

Space Starlink train. Credit: Alan Dyer.

It took people by surprise but the SpaceX Starlink train of 60 satellites has some astronomers complaining.

As the video below by noted Canadian astronomer and astrophotographer Alan Dyer shows, the procession of Starlink satellites is quite visible. This has upset some astronomers who complain it could interfere with their work.

Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX was made aware of the issues and issued several Tweets on the topic to allay the concerns of astronomers. The satellites are currently in the process of moving to higher orbits and will eventually be further spaced out. The brightness of the Starlink train is expected to diminish as they get into their proper orbital positions.

Musk said “There are already 4900 satellites in orbit, which people notice ~0% of the time. Starlink won’t be seen by anyone unless looking very carefully & will have ~0% impact on advancements in astronomy. We need to move telelscopes to orbit anyway. Atmospheric attenuation is terrible.”

He followed this up by saying “If we need to tweak sat orientation to minimize solar reflection during critical astronomical experiments, that’s easily done. Most orbital objects are close to Earth btw, as shown by this NASA density map.”

And he also stated “Agreed, sent a note to Starlink team last week specifically regarding albedo reduction. We’ll get a better sense of value of this when satellites have raised orbits & arrays are tracking to sun.”

Dyer included these remarks in his video;

This is a real-time video, in 4K, of the SpaceX Starlink satellite train from the first group of 60 satellites launched, and captured here on May 26/27, 2019 from home in southern Alberta.

I recorded two passes:
• An early one in deep twilight low across the south, and …
• A later one on the next orbit in a dark sky as they passed overhead through the Dippers.

Contrary to expectations and despite the small size of the satellites, some appeared very bright, easily naked eye, and as bright as magnitude 2 or or even 1 (the brightest stars).

Yes, most of the few dozen satellites in the train were faint, but on these passes four were quite bright.

This has raised the concern of many astronomers, myself included, for the despoiling of the night by what would eventually be hundreds of these internet satellites in our sky – your sky – at once, littering the night and even outnumbering the stars from some sites.

This and many other posted videos and images prove the Starlinks are not just visible at dusk and dawn – not in summer at higher latitudes – nor are they always dim and sub-visual.

As such Starlinks will ruin all-sky surveys planned with billion-dollar telescopes and might even litter the field of the Hubble Space Telescope which orbits at a similar altitude. They will spoil all photography and naked-eye enjoyment of the “dark sacred night.”

All for profit. Lawsuits will be flying!

No one has the right to deface the view of the night sky that belongs to all of us worldwide as a priceless and shared human heritage.

SpaceX is just the first of several companies that is planning to put up thousands of new small satellites in Low Earth Orbit. Astronomers will no doubt continue to make themselves heard on this issue.

About Marc Boucher

Marc Boucher
Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactice Inc. Boucher has 20 years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 27 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.