back to article 5G satellite briefly becomes brightest object in night sky

A recently launched 5G satellite periodically becomes the brightest object in the night sky, alarming astronomers who reckon it sometimes becomes hundreds of times brighter than the current recommendations. Astronomers are increasingly concerned human-made space hardware can interfere with their research efforts. In March, …

  1. AlwaysInquisitive

    Two observations:

    - space based observatories are going to have to continue to be more of a thing. The number of satellites isn't going to decrease - that ship has sailed.

    - the most interesting part of this to me is Vodafone's demo call. Not using 'traditional' call method but using Whatsapp! A sign of where things are steadily going where telcos continue to release their grip on voice and messaging (already lost).

    1. GioCiampa

      Unfortunately - I'd say you're right regarding observatory locations.

      Problem is, that'll involve a cost increase of several orders of magnitude for even the most basic of observations, meaning:

      a) fewer observatories being commissioned, so less potentially useful science being done

      b) an equally large increase in volume from the "Why are they spending money on this, when they could..." crowd, who usually conveniently ignore that this expenditure is a tiny fraction of that used for (shall we say) less "peaceful" pursuits...

    2. Johannesburgel12

      The trend towards "data-only" mobile radio links has been going on for many years already. It took forever to get Voice over 4G (VoLTE) rolled out, handsets had to fall back on 3G for standard voice calls all the time. 5G doesn't even have a standard voice protocol. Since the satellite doesn't also support a 4G fallback, there is no other way than to use a third-party voice protocol.

    3. that one in the corner Silver badge

      > space based observatories are going to have to continue to be more of a thing

      Yay, let's just lift all the units that make up the VLT up into orbit, that should be easy enough! Anyone got a slide rule, want to take a guess at how many launches something like that is going to take?

      Space telescopes are really good at some tasks, but for others we are not going to get any better than planet-bound for a long, long time (as in, as soon as we invent whatever powers the Star Trek Next Gen shuttles to get the lift capacity).

      Things that Earth-bound 'scopes are good for include all-sky surveys, looking for new things that might just be getting a wee bit too close to us, minor things like that.

      > the number of satellites isn't going to decrease

      If we are lucky, something more sensible will take their place for comms and then we just (!) have to wait for the majority to de-orbit. Something that our children can look forwards to, perhaps.

      1. Primus Secundus Tertius

        It has been suggested that telescopes be built on the far side of the moon. That would dodge the army of satellites in earth orbit, but, gulp..., the expense!

    4. Dagg Silver badge

      Won't work

      From the article

      In March, research showed the number of Hubble images photobombed in this way nearly doubled from the 2002-2005 period to the 2018-2021 timeframe, for example.

      as these even stuff Hubble

  2. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo Silver badge

    Astronomy tax

    We could mandate that for each kg of satellite, commercial operators need to "donate" X amount of currency for building a constellation of high flying orbital observatories.

    "You want to ruin the night sky for astronomers by launching your comm-sat constellation? Chip-in to enable astronomy to continue its work."

    1. Catkin Silver badge

      Re: Astronomy tax

      That sets one heck of a precedent. I want to see the Milky Way but there's a huge number of outdoor lights in the way and LEDs have only made the problem worse (a sodium filter used to be reasonably effective). Can I claim compensation for the fuel I need to travel to a dark area from them collectively or is it unreasonable that they should have to pay more for external lighting?

      1. that one in the corner Silver badge

        Re: Astronomy tax

        Considering how many outdoor lights around here are badly positioned and vastly over-powered for what they claim their function to be[1], even without taking into account the effect on night-sky observing, it would be a very good idea to levy a monthly charge on them. Base the amount on the overspill in every direction.

        [1] especially love the supposed "deterrents" that so brightly light the entire area that they simply make it far easier to burgle the place: just carry a clip board and you can load up whatever you want, everybody just assumes you are meant to be doing that because not an ounce of skulking or other suspicious behaviour is required.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Astronomy tax

          You're right in principle but wrong in fact. The light pollution on earth affects the man in the street and hobby astronomers, but not the main telescopes and observatories. These were placed away from built up areas to avoid those problems.

          But light pollution does have measurable effects on insects and birds. This could be solved with laws, ordinances but the arseholes responsible tend to get all high and mighty about having their freedom restricted.

          1. that one in the corner Silver badge

            Re: Astronomy tax

            > You're right in principle but wrong in fact.

            Hmm, going to have to disagree on that score.

            > The light pollution on earth affects the ... hobby astronomers ... but not the main telescopes and observatories

            There really is no such thing as "the main" telescopes. There are the big 'scopes, which are gorgeous and lovely but very few, and there is the (relatively) huge fleet of 'scopes run by amateur astronomers (note: amateur, not hobbyist - seriously!).

            Astronomy is unique amongst sciences today in that the amateurs are *still* an important resource: they can, and do, devote huge numbers of hours of 'scope time to monitoring targets that aren't on the schedules for larger instruments - including those that just swamp out the big boys, namely the bright planets in the Solar System.

            There are, of course, hobbyist star gazers as well, and more joy to them, but please don't discount the importance of the hardy and dedicated amateur astronomers.

            > but not the main telescopes and observatories

            Not now, because they have been forced to move to all the remote locations! The move of the Isaac Newton instrument from Herstmonceux to Hawaii was not universally greeted with joy in the locale. It made scientific sense, with the encroaching lights of Eastbourne and the obviously greater number of cloudless days away from the Channel, but it - and all similar moves - cost greatly in allowing observing time to be used for training up the next generation and for engaging local public interest. This was a few decades ago now, but that just shows that this is another of those long-term, creeping, problems that just allows too many people to shrug their shoulders and say it has been that way all of their life, nothing to do about it, we can't go backwards - as though it is some inevitable law of nature that things must get worse (no, that is *not* what entropy is all about!)

            > But light pollution does have measurable effects on insects and birds


            And mammals, including humans (hanging heavy blackout curtains works but hardly makes for a light and airy living space the rest of the time, looming all the time).

            1. that one in the corner Silver badge

              Re: Astronomy tax

              > Astronomy is unique amongst sciences today in that the amateurs are *still* an important resource

              SWMBO has pointedly remarked that the word "unique" has been wrongly used, as other observational sciences also benefit greatly from their amateur members. For example, botany, pollinating insect studies and, I suppose, ethology in general.

              However, amateur astronomy is still unique, until such time as the others routinely spend as much on gear!

              Oh heck, now she'll be wanting a portable botanical binocular microscope set that cost as much as my "midlife crisis" solar telescope! If you know such a thing exists, please keep it to yourself!

      2. Martin-73 Silver badge

        Re: Astronomy tax

        I would say yes., Light pollution is depressing and easily avoidable

      3. Dagg Silver badge

        Re: Astronomy tax

        Some cities (Dunedin, New Zealand) are changing from low-pressure sodium to special night sky LED street lights. They include significant shielding to prevent light spilling upwards. Get your city to follow.

        1. that one in the corner Silver badge

          Re: Astronomy tax

          The reduction of light spill upwards is to be applauded, but the change to LEDs is still controversial: with a far broader output spectrum they are harder to filter out. So we win on one but lose on the other.

          Even if the LED emissions are restricted to narrow bands, so that a comb filter can clean them up, the choices made will still tend towards providing "white" light for the "convenience" of the street goers, the filters will let electronic imagers carry on observing but it is still difficult to just show little Jimmy the night sky as the street light intrudes on the back garden.

          Let's get some single-frequency street LEDs that can be paired with inexpensive filters for winter evenings learning our way around the sky.

          1. Martin-73 Silver badge

            Re: Astronomy tax

            or just use SOX, which although being less efficient (not by much!) than LEDs, don't cost as much, and last for years as opposed to months

          2. Dagg Silver badge

            Re: Astronomy tax

            The actual LEDs were chosen for a special colour range to reduce the broad output spectrum. The resulting colour looks like a soft pink.

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Astronomy tax

      A tax or levy is probably a great idea. It could be used to help pay for cleaning up the mess. The problem is: who gets the money? And how you get all launching countries onboard?

  3. NapTime ForTruth

    Sic transit gloria astra...

    This affects not just astronomers and scientists, but every kid who might have looked to the stars and now sees only space-junk whirling by.

    Is that Venus? No, kid, that's a telephone relay satellite, an Internet propagator, an automated advertising beacon. You were born too late to see the glory of the planets and the constellations.

    Sorry about that. Who knew our saddest science fiction would become a template instead of a warning.

    1. Orv Silver badge

      Re: Sic transit gloria astra...

      For casual stargazing it's not that big a deal. None of this stuff is internally lit, and the satellites that are visible to the naked eye are in low orbit, so you just have to wait until it's all in the Earth's shadow. That takes a couple hours but it takes that long for the sky to get properly dark and your eyes to adjust anyway.

      The real hazard here is that a lot of near-earth asteroids can ONLY be imaged just after dusk or just before dawn, so our ability to see an object that might smack us back into the stone age is getting worse over time.

      1. GioCiampa

        Re: Sic transit gloria astra...

        All in the Earth's shadow? Seriously???

        Whelk's chance in a supernova comes to mind...

        1. that one in the corner Silver badge

          Re: Sic transit gloria astra...

          > All in the Earth's shadow? Seriously???

          Maybe if we can get the satellites to travel in herds, like gazelles upon the grasslands. What is the orbital equivalent of a pair of hunting lions?

          Although the operating companies may not be happy with that, at which point orbital safari weekends will start being advertised.

        2. Catkin Silver badge

          Re: Sic transit gloria astra...

          All the ones within the FoV, yes. Satellites well below the horizon suffer similar visibility limitations to stars in the same region due to the effects of a long hypothesised, very close celestial body.

        3. Orv Silver badge

          Re: Sic transit gloria astra...

          By a couple hours after dusk, everything in low orbit that's above your local horizon will be in shadow.

  4. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    This is great news! I currently have trouble getting a signal in Cromer to talk to someone 5 miles away but if I move to Hawaii it'll be fine!

  5. FirstTangoInParis Bronze badge
    Black Helicopters

    Space junk

    There's that scene in WALL-E commenting on space junk. I'd forgotten about the moon exploitation comment though ....

  6. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge

    We need bigger ground based lasers

    to remove all that junk

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: We need bigger ground based lasers

      If lots of people point a laser pointer at the same side of the satellite will it turn?

    2. Dagg Silver badge

      Re: We need bigger ground based lasers

      Yep, mount them on sharks...

  7. Denarius

    the old guys might have been right

    Satellite technology is OK but the method of using it is now dangerous due to Kessler Syndrome. The 1950s visions of relatively few large manned relay stations, not the thousands of relatively small independent satellites would produce less orbital junk, be easier to upgrade and dispose of if needed. Since automation and reliability of hardware has improved so much, no need for the stations to be permanently inhabited either. Main obstacle is lack of reliable very heavy lift rockets to build and service stations.

    SLS ? no hope. Starship, maybe. Give another 20 years I would not be surprised to see India do it. Their track record in space so far has been very cost effective and successful. What I do wish is the increase in coverage for communications. Having lived in areas where only an HF set might work or where highways exist where no coverage outside of sat phones, getting basic universal comms is a worthy and profitable goal.

  8. Denarius

    as for astronomy

    those super heavy lift rockets would also make putting and servicing far side of moon and Lagrange observatories way more cost effective. A 200 meter infra-red observatory anyone ?

    A 1000km millimeter antennae on far side of moon ?

  9. AVR

    Bright but there's brighter

    Since when were Procyon or Achernar the brightest stars in the night sky? Achernar's the ninth brightest star and I think usually one of the eight brighter stars would be above the horizon, Procyon hardly registers on a list of the brightest stars.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Take out the brightest one

    and the others to be launched will get the message.

    1. Catkin Silver badge

      Re: Take out the brightest one

      Why not put bright ones where the most interesting stars are? For anything off the geostationary plane, put a procession of them, with their orbits timed to reflect most at the required point.

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