Startling Starlink

I was hanging some washing out yesterday evening (yep, it’s all glitz and glamour here at 6000ville…) when I saw the satellite going over. Nothing particularly unusual in that, except that it very nearly took out Alnilam in the middle of Orion’s Belt (but it didn’t because this satellite was 550km from my back garden and Alnilam is 1340 light years or 12730 trillion kilometres away).

Anyway, I thought nothing of it until another satellite passed by, along pretty much the same path (so, yes, also missing Alnilam by some clear distance). Now this was more unusual, and so I used my phone to have a look and see what was going over. It turns out that several of Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites were passing just to the south and west of Cape Town, and because of their orbit and altitude, I was able to see them. We counted 9 in the end before the earth rotated far enough that the remaining members of the party disappeared below the horizon.

It turns out that astronomers and even NASA aren’t hugely happy about Starlink – their presence tends to ruin otherwise decent shots of the night sky:

Those bright dots you see are stars, galaxies and nebulusses. The phat diagonal streaks are Starlinks passing through the field and photobombing, meaning that the images are virtually useless for research purposes.

To that end, NASA have asked for images of the night sky, ruined by Starlink.

By the time SpaceX is finished, the company could have as many as 40,000 new spacecraft in orbit. They’ve already announced plans to launch 60 satellites every other week through 2020. For comparison, there are currently just over 2,000 active satellites in orbit right now.

Scary numbers, and stats that mean that our view of the night sky will be changed forever. I was really interested to see the train going over last night (albeit that the ‘carriages’ were generally very distant from one another), but I could probably do without all my nighttime photos being wrecked more than I am already managing to do by myself.

There’s another pass of 15 Starlink satellites from 7:15 until 7:45 this evening, and I’m going to try to get a photo or two. Odds aren’t great though: the moon will be up and bright, the sun will only just be going down (7:20 sunset this evening) and the satellites will be low in the sky (they’re passing halfway between here and Antarctica) and they’re not exactly blazing bright (magnitudes of around 6.5), so I’m not expecting great things, but I will give it a go.

So watch this space (but don’t expect much)!