But the reason for the celestial sight was not as unknown as many might have thought – it was actually the result of a series of satellites launched from Florida by SpaceX.
“They were Starlink satellites,” said Aaron Boley, associate professor of astronomy at UBC, who says 60 of them were sent on May 4.
“This initial phase of deployment is characterized by a line of satellites slowly spanning their orbits, and they are very bright at this point for a number of reasons.”
For one thing, the satellites are in a much lower orbit, Boley says.
Once they move away, they lose some of their brightness, but remain visible.
It was actually a line of @SpaceX Starlink satellites which took off from Florida yesterday. They will eventually go their separate ways and join a mega constellation aimed at bringing fast wireless internet to every corner of the earth. @ NEWS1130 https://t.co/rxAFbV9Y2u
– Kurtis Doering (@KDnewsguy) May 5, 2021
Starlink satellites are launched as part of a plan to provide faster and cheaper Internet access around the world.
“The idea of bringing global connectivity to the world in a way we’ve never seen, that we shouldn’t dismiss for many remote communities that don’t have reliable internet access,” Boley said. to NEWS 1130. “There are implications for search and rescue, for example, and just disaster response. So there are a number of very good benefits that come with it. “
However, there are downsides to sending so many satellites into space.
Boley says that space, especially near-Earth space like low Earth orbit, is generally not treated as “an environment.”
“An environment to be preserved. And there are a number of consequences that can follow, one of them being light pollution, obstruction of the night sky… but there is also the scientific component of it, ”Boley said. .
“All of these satellites are recycled every five years or so – at least that’s the plan – and that’s going to dump material into the upper atmosphere, which over time can become a sizable amount of mass.
He notes that SpaceX has been working on reducing the brightness of its Starlink satellites to the naked eye, with the aim of reducing the view of the night sky. But that doesn’t take into account the impact of these satellites on telescopes, which are sensitive to light.
This can be problematic for large-scale surveys, which are carried out for a variety of reasons.
Some teams look at the night sky every few days to see changes, while others monitor space for “planetary defense.”
“The search for asteroids that could potentially be in the impact path of the Earth and these… satellites are going to impact the ability to quickly characterize much of the ephemeral that we see in the night sky that we see. Boley said.