Iridium Flares Vs Starlink Flares

For a long time now, we’ve been accustomed to watching Iridium “Flares” in the night sky as the iridium communication satellites reflect sunlight off of their antennae at an angle directed toward Earth. The “flare” lasts only seconds, and covers a very limited “path” across the face of the Earth. So, being in the right place at the right time was critical to seeing one.

The iridium satellites are being replaced by new communication satellites, named Starlink. On May 23rd, Space X launched 60 satellites (all at the same time), the first installment of a total of about 12,000. As the iridium flares were “naked eye” visible, so are the Starlink flares. The flares are the result of Sunlight being reflected off of flat Earth-facing surfaces, as were the iridium flares. But there is a difference. At this time, there is a “lead” satellite and “trailing” satellites. The resulting flares, appear as a single track followed by a number of other simultaneous tracks. The photo below shows a sighting from the Netherlands.

One of the purposes of the new satellites is to provide broadband internet world-wide. Sounds good, right? Well, that’s one good thing. However, imagine taking a time exposure of some deep sky object, and ending up with “satellite streaks” across the frame. I mean, 12,000 satellites are a lot.

Well, here it is: Starlink streak pollution. An amateur astronomer captured a supernova in Galaxy NGC5353 (left side below). Astronomers at the Lowell Observatory trying to study the same supernova, photographed (tried to photograph) the supernova for light curve study. Here’s what they got (right side):

This type of supernova supplies information useful in determining the rate of expansion of the universe (when it can be photographed). Is this what we can expect astro photos to look like? The IAU (International Astronomical Union) is calling for some kind of regulation to lessen the possibility of this becoming a disaster for astronomy.

If you’re interested, you can see the “flyby” predictions at Happy viewing.