New SpaceX Satellites Worry Stargazers In Tucson

Published: Wednesday, June 5, 2019 - 9:08am
Updated: Wednesday, June 5, 2019 - 9:09am

Amateur stargazers and astronomers in Tucson say they are feeling less than starry-eyed with the recent launch of dozens of satellites by SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

The Tucson-based International Dark-Sky Association fears the increasing number of satellites will impact the landscape of night skies for people and animals, the Arizona Daily Star reported Monday.

California-based SpaceX sent 60 little satellites into orbit on May 23 to facilitate global internet coverage. The flat-panel satellites each weigh 500 pounds (227 kilograms) and have a solar panel and a thruster. The company is planning to launch thousands more.

The visibility of the Starlink satellites will dramatically decrease as they orbit to greater distance, SpaceX spokeswoman Eva Behrend told the newspaper.

"At this point, all 60 satellites have deployed their solar arrays successfully, generated positive power and communicated with our ground stations," Behrend said.

The International Dark-Sky Association is worried because other companies besides SpaceX will be launching satellites, said Amanda Gormly, the association's director of communications. The Federal Communications Commission has approved more than 7,000 satellites from SpaceX, according the association.

"What we are really concerned about is the rapid increase of these satellites, which could fundamentally change the way we experience the night sky," Gormly said.

The satellites could also disrupt nocturnal animals, including migratory birds, that use the night sky to navigate, Gormly said.

"What we don't understand is exactly how deeply this will impact those animals," Gormly said.

Some scientists say the satellites could become a nuisance and get in the way of their work.

"Some observations use multiple exposures of the sky and the effects of the satellites in the data can be minimized," said Adam Block, an astronomy researcher with the Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona. However, "if you were to take long exposures with your camera, they are going to show up."

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