Elon Musk’s Starlink Satellites Are Already Causing a Headache for Astronomers

Astronomers at a Chilean observatory were rudely interrupted earlier this week when a SpaceX satellite train consisting of 60 Starlink satellites drifted overhead, in what scientists are apparently going to have to accept as the new normal.

Launched into orbit on November 11, the Starlink smallsat train took five minutes to pass over the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, according to a tweet from astronomer Clarae Martínez-Vázquez.

“Wow!! I am in shock!!,” tweeted Martínez-Vázquez. “The huge amount of Starlink satellites crossed our skies tonight at [Cerro Tololo]. Our DECam [Dark Energy Camera] exposure was heavily affected by 19 of them!,” to which she added: “Rather depressing… This is not cool!”

Responding to this tweet, astronomer Cliff Johnson, a team member and a CIERA Postdoc Fellow in Astronomy at Northwestern, tweeted out a view of the disrupted data, showing an array of satellite trails strewn across an image of space.

The astronomers were collecting data using the DECam instrument, a high-performance, wide-field imager on the CTIO Blanco 4-meter telescope, as part of the DELVE survey, which is currently mapping the outer fringes of the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds as well as a significant fraction of the southern sky at optical wavelengths. Key goals of the project are to study the stellar halo around the Magellanic Clouds and detect new dwarf galaxies in orbit around the Clouds or the nearby Milky Way.

The Starlink-tarnished DECam frame, showing satellite trails across the field of view.
The Starlink-tarnished DECam frame, showing satellite trails across the field of view.
Image: Clara Martínez-Vázquez, Cliff Johnson, CTIO/AURA/NSF

But this research was punctuated as the Starlink train passed overhead during the early morning of Monday, November 18.

Source: Elon Musk’s Starlink Satellites Are Already Causing a Headache for Astronomers