On November 18, CIERA Postdoctoral Fellow Cliff Johnson and his collaborator Clara Martínez-Vázquez were hoping to observe stars in a pair of nearby galaxies when a group of newly-launched Starlink satellites, a venture by SpaceX, flew through their field of view.
Cliff and Clara were using the Dark Energy Camera (DECam) on the four-meter Blanco telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in Chile. Clara is an astronomer at CTIO, while Cliff was observing remotely from Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois. The team are running a three-year survey called DECam Local Volume Exploration (DELVE) to observe nearby galaxies.
Cliff and Clara started tweeting about the oddity, and were later interviewed by several journalists. Proposed “megaconstellations” of satellites, like Starlink, have the potential to dramatically interfere with scientific astronomical observations being carried out by every major observatory worldwide. These constellations are being hotly debated as they are currently not well regulated, and could adversely impact the investments that have been made in major astronomical research facilities.
Follow Cliff Johnson on Twitter.
Learn more about the current on-going debate around the impact of megaconstellations by reading:
International Astronomical Union Statement on Satellite Constellations
American Astronomical Society Position Statement on Satellite Constellations
Round Up of Media Mentions of CIERA/Northwestern
Forbes, “‘This Is Not Cool!’ – Astronomers Despair As SpaceX Starlink Train Ruins Observation Of Nearby Galaxies” by Jonathan O’Callaghan
New Scientist, “SpaceX’s Starlink Satellites are Interfering with Astronomy Again” by Donna Lu
Wired UK, “Elon Musk’s Satellites are Starting to Really Annoy Astronomers” by Abigail Beall
Sky & Telescope, “The Starlink Situation” by Monica Young
National Science Foundation, “Starlink Satellites Imaged from CTIO — IOTW1946” by Lars Lindberg Christensen
VOX, “The Night Sky is Increasingly Dystopian” by Brian Resnick
New York Times, “OneWeb Launches 34 Satellites as Astronomers Fear Radio Chatter” by Shannon Hall