Several prominent astronomers took to Twitter over the weekend to voice their concerns with the planned 12,000-satellite SpaceX Starlink constellation following the launch of the first 60 satellites. The concerns are centred around the potential light pollution caused by the orbiting satellites and what effect it might have on ground-based astronomy.
In the early hours of the morning on May 24, sixty Starlink satellites were launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9. Less than 24 hours later, footage started to surface showing a bright train of Starlink satellites streaking across the night sky. Although many were in awe of the light show, astronomers immediately began to voice concerns that 12,000 Starlink satellites orbiting the Earth would pose a significant challenge for ground-based astronomy efforts.
I know people are excited about those images of the train of SpaceX Starlink satellites, but it gives me pause.
They’re bright, and there are going to be a lot of them.
If SpaceX launches all 12,000, they will outnumber stars visible to the naked eye.
— Alex Parker (@Alex_Parker) May 25, 2019
Following the chorus of concerns, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk responded revealing the satellites’ solar arrays had not yet been pointed at the sun. By far the most reflective element of a satellite is its solar arrays. Once operational, the Starlink satellites’ solar arrays will be pointed away from the Earth to soak up solar rays. In this position, the amount of reflection emanating from the arrays and the satellites as a whole should be reduced significantly.
Despite Musks assurances, many are still questioning the potential impact of the Starlink constellation. Additionally, with OneWeb and several other operators hoping to begin launching their own mega constellations, the night sky as we know it may be a thing of the past.