SpaceX’s Train of Satellites Creates Temporary ‘Mega-Constellation’

“SpaceX’s unorthodox card-dealing launch of 60 Starlink broadband satellites has led to an unusual viewing opportunity for skywatchers — and an occasion to wonder about the impact of such mega-constellations on the natural night sky,” reports GeekWire:

A video captured by satellite-watcher Marco Langbroek in the Netherlands sums up the awe… It didn’t take long for Langbroek and other skywatchers to work out the coordinates for the long train of satellites, and to plug those coordinates into online satellite-pass calculators such as CalSky. On Twitter, David Dickinson, author of “The Universe Today: Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Cosmos,” started doling out location-specific sighting predictions based on the Orbitron satellite-tracking program.

CalSky automatically picks up your coordinates for satellite sightings, but for those in the Seattle area, the best time to look for the Starlink train passing by tonight is likely to be in the range of 10:50 to 11:10 p.m. PT, going from southwest to northeast. That’s a liberal stretch of time that accounts for a range of locations (say, Port Townsend vs. North Bend), plus uncertainties in the orbital estimates. There are other passes overnight at around 12:30, 3:50 and 5:20 a.m. PT. The brightness of the satellites is a question mark. Some say they can be seen with the naked eye, while others advise scanning with binoculars. A lot depends on how the satellites pick up the glint of the sun after dusk or before dawn. Tonight Langbroek reported that the satellite train wasn’t as bright as it was the night before.

Speaking of brightness, astronomers and SpaceX fans have already begun the debate over the prospect of having thousands of broadband-beaming satellites in low Earth orbit. The 60 satellites launched this week merely represent the beginning of a campaign aimed at launching as many as 11,000 such spacecraft. And that’s just for SpaceX’s Starlink system. Thousands more could go into orbit for the constellations being contemplated by OneWeb, Telesat, LeoSat Enterprises and Amazon’s Project Kuiper.
Today Elon Musk tweeted defensively that “sats will be in darkness when stars are visible” — while GeekWire points out that the satellites are also scheduled to spread. “Within just a few days, the tightly spaced ‘train’ will turn into a dispersed chain that girdles the globe,” their article concludes.

“And once that happens, chances are that skywatchers and sky-worriers alike will turn their attention to the next batch of Starlink satellites.”

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

May 26, 2019 at 06:34AM

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