Elon Musk plans to dim the Starlink satellites to reduce light pollution in the night sky

Apr 29, 2020

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Elon Musk plans to dim the Starlink satellites to reduce light pollution in the night sky

Apr 29, 2020

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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SpaceX’s Starlink satellites have been controversial since before the first round of them were launched. Having recently launched more, which is going to keep happening for a while, the debates have sparked up again. There are currently 422 of the anticipated 12,000 (with 30,000 more applied for) Starlink satellites floating around our planet, and they’re already upsetting people.

The two main reasons (if we remove all the tinfoil hat conspiracies) are that they will ruin our view of the night sky, which really sucks for astrophotography, and that it will make certain scientific studies all but impossible due to their overpowering brightness relative to the dim lights littered throughout the universe. Elon Musk has now said, though, they’re working on making them dimmer.

Essentially, the light we see from the satellites is sunlight reflecting off its huge solar panels. Even though it might be night time for us down here on earth, for the satellites orbiting the earth it’s not unless the earth is directly in a path between it and the sun – which isn’t going to be happening for most of them. It’s why we can see much of the moon on most nights, too.

Around the time of the latest launch, Musk made a tweet announcing some of the ways SpaceX plans to tackle the brightness of the Starlink satellites in the night sky.

Musk says that they’ll be changing the solar panel angle to help counter the reflection during certain times of the day, and that they’ll be getting sunshades starting with the ninth launch – the most recent launch on April 22nd was the seventh.

By all accounts, the light reflected off the satellites isn’t as bright as was initially expected, although it’s still quite shockingly bright compared to the other lights in our night sky. Lights that astrophotographers want to capture and scientists want to study.

Starlink’s goal is to provide superfast broadband across the entire planet, with services planned to begin this summer. So far, 420 of the satellites have been launched of a minimum of 12,000 in total. But that figure may eventually exceed 30,000 if the current plans are approved. For reference, humankind has sent around just 9,400 objects into space in all of history so far.

[via Engadget]

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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17 responses to “Elon Musk plans to dim the Starlink satellites to reduce light pollution in the night sky”

  1. Sebastiaan Bras Avatar
    Sebastiaan Bras

    Should there not be laws whos polluting the space around earth, or can anyone just fill it up with electric which turn to space junk in a couple years?.

    1. Tom Connor Avatar
      Tom Connor

      Sebastiaan Bras you should read more into it. They’re not junk. They’re doing a job and they deorbit themselves at the end of their lives.

    2. Bryan McKay Savage Avatar
      Bryan McKay Savage

      Sebastiaan Bras you ever looked into the amount of man made crap they ha e in orbit currently. It’s already a garbage site.

    3. Bryan McKay Savage Avatar
      Bryan McKay Savage

      Tom Connor I was not aware that the currently do any jobs, I thought it was just still in testing.

    4. Sebastiaan Bras Avatar
      Sebastiaan Bras

      I read all the time about this, i never have red that these satellites will deorbit, for once they have maybe by fault or testing. Maybe you mean there distance will increase which gives less ‘pollution’ and they are looking in to shade the reflectors which in turn would absorb less light what would be an plus, but stil trails in our imagery of the telescopes.

    5. Sebastiaan Bras Avatar
      Sebastiaan Bras

      Bryan McKay Savage true ?

    6. Bryan McKay Savage Avatar
      Bryan McKay Savage

      Sebastiaan Bras the starlight system
      Are supposed to come back to earth and burn up when entering ower atmosphere at the end of there life cycle.

      I personally dont see much point I this system as from what little I know it is purely to provide fast reliable internet worldwide.

    7. Kevin Johnson Avatar
      Kevin Johnson

      Nope, there is no governing body of space only some really non-binding treaties

    8. Tom Connor Avatar
      Tom Connor

      Bryan McKay Savage no the ones up there work. They are going to do a 3 month private beta test, and after that are planning a public test.

    9. Tom Connor Avatar
      Tom Connor

      Sebastiaan Bras you need to do some basic research then. The altitude they are at means they are in a decaying orbit. They have thrusters right keep them in place. They can deorbit themselves, or if they fail they will gradually be dragged into the atmosphere and burn up.

    10. Christopher R Field Avatar
      Christopher R Field

      Well I mean any laws would really just effect a dozen countries and Elon Musk
      Not exactly urgent legislation, and since those countries are all sovereign, it wouldn’t be terribly useful

  2. Bruce Hughes Avatar
    Bruce Hughes

    Shoot them down.

  3. Kevin Johnson Avatar
    Kevin Johnson

    I don’t trust anything he says

  4. Charlie Muller Avatar
    Charlie Muller

    We will need when the stars burn out- good thinking

  5. Tim Bambam Avatar
    Tim Bambam

    I think it will be far more dangerous to the astronauts that are spending more time in space all of the time.
    If the plan to start operation is this summer than why do they need so many more satellites in the first place. It seems to be far to many satalites besides all the other new satalites being put up by other companies. Its like he isnt going to leave room for others. Very sad.

    1. Captain Jack Avatar
      Captain Jack

      It’s not going to be an issue. Right now the ISS is around 250 miles above earth. Starlink is around 340 miles up. That’s a 90 mile difference. The further away a satellite is, the more distance there is between objects in flight. Just like the thousands of airline jets, helicopters, small aircraft flying over our heads everyday, there is little risk of collisions. In orbit there is even more room for our space crap. While I’m not worried about the new companies putting sats out for internet access around the world, I am concerned with the amount of dead crap out there. Just tiny little pieces of metal that were created from sats blown up for whatever reason. That needs to be cleaned up. I’m happy the feds put in the licensing for Starlink to put in a plan end of life deorbit of the sats. So they are going to come back down after 6 years of use. :-)

    2. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      “If the plan to start operation is this summer than why do they need so many more satellites in the first place”

      Because it’s not going to start globally. Think of phone coverage. A handful of towers in California aren’t going to be much use to people in Florida, are they? :)