Chasing the Dark, Starlink and nearly giving up.

The days are long and the nights are short, at the moment there are about 4 hours of usable darkness for Deepsky imaging, fortunately since most of the aircraft have been grounded due to the Covid 19 pandemic, the skys have been much much clearer, this has happened before, I refer you to a previous post of mine about when the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull, erupted in April 2010, I’m even more convinced now that aircraft emmisions are the cause of so much bad weather and a huge contributor to global warming ( Aircraft operators can plant as many trees as they like, trees will not clean air 31000 to 38000 feet up ). Anyway back to topic, I have booked a weeks holiday to enjoy the weather, not going anywhere just relaxing at home and taking advantage of the clear ( night ) sky, I have done more imaging in the last two nights than i have for a long time, a total of 8 hours gathering narrowband data on IC1396 the Elephants Trunk Nebula in Cepheus, this was added to data that was captured in 2018 giving about 16 hours of exposure.

Elephant Trunk nebula Hubble palette
Elephant Trunk nebula Hubble palette

I must confess, I would have done some imaging a couple of weeks ago – but I had a moment where I seriously considered giving up astro imaging altogether, a couple of weeks ago I happened to be standing in the back garden looking up, when I noticed a satellite passing from west to east, ( nothing odd about this there are roughly 5000 in orbit, under 2000 of those are operational ) then another 30 seconds later following the same path, then another 30 seconds after that and so it went for about fifteen minutes, what I had seen was part of Elon Musks, SpaceX, Starlink satellite constellation, these satellites – when they cross the field of view of a telescope and camera, leave lines in the image as they pass.

starlink-trails
Starlink trails, Credit: Victoria Girgis/Lowell Observatory

I phoned a friend of mine, another amateur astronomer to have a look himself, we both agreed it was a sickening thing to see, many non astronomers do not realise the danger to our night sky these things pose, especially as they are already having an impact on the night sky with only 360 them, Mr Musk ( the very same guy who thought it a good idea, albeit an egotistical one to launch a Tesla Roadster, complete with a spacesuit clad dummy into space, from an astronomers point of view he would make an excellent Bond villain ) wants to launch 30,000 of them, to provide global broadband internet coverage.

By the year 2025 SpaceX plan to have 12,000 Starlinks in orbit distributed as follows

  • 7,500 at 340 km altitude
  • 1,600 at 550 km altitude
  • 5,800 at 710 km altitude, data courtesy of Union of Concerned Scientists.

But thats not all, there are other companys that want to launch their own satellite constellations, OneWeb with an initial 800 satellites, Amazon last year announced project Kuiper, with 30,000 satellites and Canadian company Telesat wish to do the same, although they have not as yet said how many satellites they will have.

I set my allsky camera up to see if I could capture some of these rudy things, but all I got was the ISS, at least when you see that, you can think to yourself, there’s people up there, the StarSTINK ( thanks for the name Ron ) satellites should pass over the UK on Wednesday, May 27 at 3.48am GMT, I’ll try again then.

MeteorDetect-0297_38_106
ISS, International Space Staion

The allsky camera works using software to compare one image with the next, any change such as a satellite or meteor triggers a capture sequence, imagine what it will be like when the sky is a moving net of satellites, it will be running a continuous capture sequence.

The issue of trails on deepsky images can be fixed with stacking software and Kappa Sigma Clipping algorithms, which ignore outliers such as satellite trails ( yet to be tested on a stack of badly trailed images ) and cosmic ray action on a camera sensor, but if you just want to lay back and look up at the spendour of the night sky, especially if you live under a dark non light polluted sky – then your view will be spoilt beyond doubt. 

That was why I was ready to give up the ghost, I do like to just stare up at the beauty of the heavens from time to time, is it’s not enough that we pollute the earth for greed, we now need to pollute the night sky as well.

2 thoughts on “Chasing the Dark, Starlink and nearly giving up.”

  1. How many companies with egotistical CEOs will decide to get in on the global internet satellite business, I wonder? If it takes 30,000 satellites to make it work and say six companies do it, that’s 180,000 satellites on top of all the ones doing real science.

    There are plenty of other ways of providing internet services but it seems near Earth space is going to be a billionaires playground with no legislative authority to licence their entry into the field, regulate what they can do, how they can do it or how they clean up after the satellites pass their use by dates.

    I like your image and can confirm the skies over SW Sydney have improved over the last three months of lock-down, probably the only positive from the CV19 outbreak.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post Will. It really is a frightening and depressing thought that the night sky could be totally trashed in this way. Greybeard’s description of a ‘billionaire’s playground’ is about right and makes me feel sick. It really is hard to take that this abominable nonsense could be allowed to happen.
    On the brighter side, that’s a cracking image of the Elephant Trunk Nebula. Glad you were able to get some decent imaging done at last! Take care.

    Liked by 2 people

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