First off, here is the visible sky from Chez 6000 last night. And those teeny tiny red dots right at the very bottom demonstrate the path of the Starlink train. They are very, very close to the horizon.
And it wasn’t even dark. Not even close. Here’s a 4 second exposure of that bit of the sky at that time:
The foreground is out of focus because it’s close to the camera and the satellites are a long way away. The likelihood is that those satellites are actually in this image, but sadly, they were far too dim and the sky far too bright to even dream of seeing them.
I did hang around outside and hope for something… anything. And sunset was pretty, if unremarkable (#noRBOSS).
But there were no satellites.
There are no viable Starlink passes predicted over Cape Town for the foreseeable future. I’ll obviously be revisiting this project at some point when they return.
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.
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.