Elon Musk Just Grabbed Your Night Sky

Elon Musk’s SpaceX just launched 60 satellites, part of an eventual 12,000 intended to make the internet available to everyone.

You can see them, and many people did last night.

I’ll let astronomers tweet their concerns.

Update: Here’s a NASA video about space junk before Musk’s latest brainstorm.






109 replies
  1. 1

    I was just reading those threads!

    In case you needed more proof that we’re living in a cyberpunk dystopia…

    ETA: speaking of…

  2. 2
    MattF says:

    At least they don’t spell out ELON MUSK— so, no worries.

  3. 3

    @MattF: They might as well

  4. 4
    scav says:

    Rich boys sure can pollute and ruin things for everyone so long as they get to play with their toys at their will.

  5. 5

    Um don’t you have to get somebody’s permission to put 12,000 satellites into orbit? And shouldn’t there be, I dunno, hearings or a VOTE somewhere or something? Am I taking crazy pills?

  6. 6
    MattF says:

    @John Revolta: Or else what? Space Patrol shoots them down?

  7. 7

    @John Revolta:

    Um don’t you have to get somebody’s permission to put 12,000 satellites into orbit?

    I don’t believe so. It’s not like anybody owns the airspace.

  8. 8
    Luthe says:

    @Major Major Major Major: This is why we need SPACE FORCE!!11!!!

    (or, more realistically, a UN Agency in charge of what gets launched into low Earth orbit)

  9. 9
    Mike in NC says:

    @Luthe: Space Force will be commanded by Field Marshal Elon Musk. He’d better get cracking to put men on the moon in 2024.

  10. 10
    Bill Arnold says:

    @Major Major Major Major:

    I don’t believe so. It’s not like anybody owns the airspace.

    Yup. Explosively disperse a few metric tons of ball bearings, keep doing it until a Kessler cascade starts.
    Fuck E. Musk for this. Seriously. For the radio and optical pollution, to be clear, for personal gain, plus the precedent, which will encourage egregious stuff like flashing space-billboards, and much much worse.

  11. 11

    @Luthe: Yup, Space Force powered by Coal*

    *h/t to Peter Paul Chato(check out his YouTube channel, funny stuff).

  12. 12

    @Major Major Major Major: Yeah I figured this was the case. I just wish there was some kind of, oh I dunno, World Body that could oversee such things. Ah well.

  13. 13
    dmsilev says:

    @John Revolta: He has permission. Most notably from the FCC, which granted SoaceX a broadcast license for the wavelength bands that the satellites will use. There are also some international regulations about orbits, but that’s mostly aimed at making sure satellites don’t hit each other (space is big, yes, but as with other real estate, some locations are very valuable. Geostationary orbits over population centers, for instance).

    Also, there are other masses-of-small-satellites constellations planned, so this is a problem which is just going to get worse.

  14. 14
    Baud says:

    the cost to astronomy, astrophotography, and stargazing in general.

    When I’m President, I’m putting Billin in charge of the Space Force to shoot down every last one of these things.

  15. 15
    Mary G says:

    “Move fast and break things” puppies are not so cute now that they are big dogs rampaging through the neighborhood tearing up flower beds and killing cats.

    Do any of you lawyers think astronomers can sue for lost livelihood? Oh wait, Twitler and the turtle are packing the courts with judges who all think the richer guy wins. Silly me.

  16. 16

    Not to be a wet blanket, but shooting them “down” just makes lots of little pieces to smash into other satellites. They need to be collected.

  17. 17
    Mnemosyne says:

    So I have a restaurant question for PNW — especially Portland — jackals:

    We’re going to be up in Portland for my upcoming milestone birthday, and I’ve narrowed my big fancy birthday dinner down to two steakhouses: RingSide Steakhouse and El Gaucho.

    Anyone have a strong and unshakeable opinion pro or con on either of them? El Gaucho is more expensive, but their desserts and sides sound a little better to me. 🤔

  18. 18

    @Baud: As long as it’s Powered by Coal, I’m good.

  19. 19
    Baud says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    to smash into other satellites. 

    Exactly!

  20. 20
    MattF says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: I suppose we could shoot ’em up and then shoot ’em down. Le sigh.

  21. 21
    Brachiator says:

    Elon Musk’s SpaceX just launched 60 satellites, part of an eventual 12,000 intended to make the internet available to everyone

    Lotta fucking space junk.

  22. 22
    Baud says:

    @🐾BillinGlendaleCA:

    Coal in space would be better than coal on Earth.

  23. 23
    dmsilev says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Easiest way to get rid of these particular satellites would be to someone force SpaceX to turn off their engines. They’re in a 450 mile high orbit; a quick look at orbital decay charts suggests that they’d reenter in about five years once they stop active station-keeping. Or faster if they use whatever fuel they have to lower their orbits.

  24. 24
    Baud says:

    to make the internet available to everyone.

    What could possibly go wrong?

  25. 25

    I just added a NASA video on space junk to the top post.

  26. 26
    Emma says:

    And when he goes bankrupt they will be sold to the highest bidder — and we’re at the bottom of the gravity well. Fun.

  27. 27

    @Baud: Everybody will be Facebook friends now.

  28. 28

    @dmsilev: Well that makes me feel much better about the whole project. Because SpaceX is obviously gonna be around forever to keep ’em running, even ten years* from now when they’ve become obsolete.

    *Optimist that I am

  29. 29
    My Side of Town says:

    @dmsilev:

    They’re in a 450 mile high orbit; a quick look at orbital decay charts suggests that they’d reenter in about five years once they stop active station-keeping.

    Yep, that’s the plan. Replace them every 5 years. They burn up in the atmosphere and hopefully won’t hit anyone. But $30 high speed internet for everyone.

  30. 30
    Baud says:

    @My Side of Town:

    Is it fixed or mobile?

  31. 31
    My Side of Town says:

    @Baud: Fixed, I believe. You need a transponder. Also each satellite has limited bandwidth. Their main advantage is long distance communication.

  32. 32
    dmsilev says:

    @John Revolta: They’re coming down sooner or later no matter what, independent of how the business does. Once they run out of fuel, the decay clock starts. Anything in low orbit has the same issue; NASA and the Russians have to periodically raise the orbit of ISS, for instance.

  33. 33
    NotMax says:

    Heckuva lot of effort for porn and cat pix.

  34. 34

    I’m not that worried about Elon’s satellites, here’s a flair from the Hubble Space Telescope. It’s at a higher orbit and it is bigger than Elon’s satellites so it catches the sunlight better.

  35. 35
    dmsilev says:

    @Baud: Vaguely mobile. The ground antennas are described as being roughly the size of a pizza box. Fine for mounting on an RV or boat, not so great for carrying in your back pocket.

  36. 36

    @NotMax: No effort is too great for porn and cat pix.

  37. 37
  38. 38
    Mart says:

    @🐾BillinGlendaleCA: Just paint ’em black.

  39. 39
    Jay says:

    “Half of the six contractors that built border wall prototypes had questionable track records, including one contractor that the Army Corps of Engineers felt was too risky to do future business with, according to a review of public records, a previously unreported whistleblower lawsuit, and new documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by the Project On Government Oversight. The past conduct of three contractors—Caddell Construction, W.G. Yates & Sons, and Fisher Sand & Gravel—should concern contracting officers and prompt stronger oversight in future contracts to ensure that these companies play by the rules.”

    https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2018/04/bad-actors-among-border-wall-contractors/

  40. 40
    My Side of Town says:

    @dmsilev:

    roughly the size of a pizza box

    The picture generated in my mind is everyone wearing a sombrero modified with electronics. Ergo mobile.

  41. 41
    cain says:

    The night sky – milky way will be a new tourist attraction in which you will need to be rich to see.

  42. 42
    dmsilev says:

    @My Side of Town: I had much the same thought.

  43. 43
    Mary G says:

    OT but too cute;.toddler high-fiving Harriet Tubman
    https://twitter.com/yashar/status/1129757872672399360?s=19

  44. 44
    cain says:

    @Mnemosyne:
    I don’t think I’ve been to either of them, you can’t go wrong with them I’ve heard good things about El Gaucho. :)

    Did you want to do a meet up while you are here in our fair city? (or little Beirut as we are known at times ;)

  45. 45
    Belafon says:

    @Baud: There could be more Bauds. There could also be more people we don’t want, but there would also be more people able to look up that youtube video on how to fix that well pump that a family needs to live.

  46. 46

    @Mart: It’s why Photoshop’s “healing brush” was invented.

  47. 47
    cain says:

    All we are going to get is more people giving up their privacy and security and turned into slaves of Big Data. Meh. Also, we’ll get more trolls.

  48. 48
    cain says:

    @cain:
    Not to throw a wrench in your plans, but I had my milestone 50 birthday at Andina which is considered one of the best. However, it has a noisy ambience which is the one drawback I had. But the drinks are to die for :D

  49. 49
  50. 50

    @Belafon: You will be assimilated into the Baud Collective…

  51. 51
  52. 52
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    This question is probably so naïve as to be embarrassing, but is there a reason why these satellites have to be shiny? If Musk feels he absolutely has to launch 60 or 12,000 or however many of these things, couldn’t they at least be coated with some kind of dark non-reflective paint or skin? This wouldn’t address a lot of the concerns outlined in the O/P, but at least astronomers could still study the sky, and Billin could continue to take his amazing Milky Way photos.

    ETA: Aaaaand I see Mart @38 had the same thought. I don’t feel quite a stupid now.

  53. 53
    scav says:

    I’ve always been impressed by the depth and completeness of the Internets Ibibio, Urhobo and Ijaw libraries on plumbing.

  54. 54
    Bill Arnold says:

    @My Side of Town:

    But $30 high speed internet for everyone.

    I’d be a little less pissed off it it were free, painted flat black, and formed a Tor network under dual-key joint control of the EFF and Amnesty International.
    This and the rest that will come are just land grabs by those with means.
    (Personally, I see everything moving, 90 degrees left and right; a windy day is tiring. The night sky away from cities is still relaxing (and amazing) excepting occasional circumpolar satellites and high-altitude airplanes.)

  55. 55

    @SiubhanDuinne: I’ve wondered about painting them black too.

  56. 56
    MartinP says:

    @🐾BillinGlendaleCA: in sight or not, optically, there’s no question this constellation will be a huge issue for radio astronomy. Sadly, it’s a continuation of a long-term trend, and the first impulse of an anticipated acceleration.

  57. 57
    debbie says:

    @Major Major Major Major:

    If one falls and kills people on the ground, will Musk be liable?

  58. 58
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @SiubhanDuinne:

    ETA: Aaaaand I see Mart @38 had the same thought. I don’t feel quite as stupid now.

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    I’ve wondered about painting them black too.

    And now I feel downright brilliant!

  59. 59
    NotMax says:

    @SiubhanDuinne

    Off the top o’ the noodle layman’s answer is to aid in maintaining operating temperature by reflecting heat. That ol’ flaming orb up in space is a hot sucker.

  60. 60
    mrmoshpotato says:

    @🐾BillinGlendaleCA: LOL!

    I’m Faceberg friends with no one.

  61. 61
    germy says:

    Is it a rule that he must misspell the name of anyone he’s calling low IQ?

    North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me. I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Bidan a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 25, 2019

  62. 62
    Doug R says:

    I took a first year astronomy course at the University of Calgary which included a visit to the Rothney Observatory. I asked the staff about light pollution, especially since the city of Calgary is right next door. It was no big deal to them, they just put all their equipment out of phase with the City of Calgary.
    This satellite gang will cause problems, but I think we’ll be able to work around it, especially once the satellites get published orbits and don’t forget the James Webb telescope is going up in 2021.
    https://science.ucalgary.ca/rothney-observatory

  63. 63

    @debbie: I believe international law would find him liable in some way but I have no idea with what severity.

    This reminds me of a really crazy thing, let’s see if I can find it… In Russia’s Space Graveyard, Locals Scavenge Fallen Spacecraft for Profit. The pictures are not to be missed!

  64. 64
    Doug R says:

    @Mart: @SiubhanDuinne: Dark objects absorb more energy=heat which means delicate electronics fry.

  65. 65
    debbie says:

    @Major Major Major Major:

    Good God, scanning the skies for a rocket to come crashing down???

  66. 66
    My Side of Town says:

    All of the satellites are equipped with and firing a Hall thruster to steer them to the proper orbit. That is maybe the light we are seeing.

  67. 67

    @debbie: see, we live in a sci-fi dystopia already, it’s just not evenly distributed.

  68. 68
    Yutsano says:

    @Mnemosyne: @cain: Sounds like an upper end steak house. There are ways of escaping without spending too much in the way of dosh. Nevertheless, it is your birthday, so whatever you would like is good with me. I’m drooling over the scallops already.

  69. 69
    NotMax says:

    Hm. Didn’t V’ger deploy a string of satellites around the Earth in the first Star Trek movie?

    Just sayin’.

    ;)

  70. 70

    @debbie: I think the satellites are small enough that they will burn up in the atmosphere.

  71. 71

    @Cheryl Rofer: even if some parts survive, the earth is of course large and mostly uninhabited.

  72. 72

    @My Side of Town: That was my thought too, when they’re in obit they only pick up the sun for a couple of seconds(longer close to sunrise and sunset).

  73. 73
    dmsilev says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: That’s supposedly the plan anyway. These are tiny little satellite, a few hundred pounds each. We’re not talking about Skylab re-entering here.

  74. 74
  75. 75
    My Side of Town says:

    This whole enterprize exists to finance Musk’s shot at landing a colony on Mars.

  76. 76

    @Cheryl Rofer: I was counting that as uninhabited surface area :)

  77. 77
    debbie says:

    @My Side of Town:

    I cannot imagine how much money he must have. Pity he’s not as concerned about world hunger.

  78. 78
  79. 79

    @🐾BillinGlendaleCA: I don’t think Atlantis would be affected by a few dinky meteorites.

  80. 80
    My Side of Town says:

    @debbie: It occurs to me that Musk must have read Robert Heinlein’s Harriman novels. ie “The man who sold the moon”, and a few others. I was enthralled with those novels as a teenager. I never thought I’d actually see it happen, but here we are.

  81. 81

    @My Side of Town: musk does strike one as a heinlein fan…

  82. 82
    Elie says:

    I am so weary and sad about all we are losing these days…. To have satellites replace our stars just seems — I dunno — BEYOND. I am not against technical advances — I am not a luddite — but sheesh — seeing the stars — a simple pleasure. I am sad.

  83. 83
    debbie says:

    @Major Major Major Major:

    Grumble. I’m tired of all this dystopia. I’m finishing up what I swear will be my last dystopic book. Tomorrow, I will find something happy at the library if it kills me.

  84. 84
    My Side of Town says:

    @Major Major Major Major: The roads must roll or hyper tube?

  85. 85
  86. 86
    Baud says:

    @debbie:

    America needs less dystopia and more Baudtopia!

  87. 87
    My Side of Town says:

    @debbie: You should check out Heinlein. He was not dystopian at all and described a positive future that we may be experiencing. Like Mars, which I hope to live long enough to see.

  88. 88
    debbie says:

    @Baud:

    Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you…

  89. 89
    debbie says:

    @My Side of Town:

    I remember liking Stranger in a Strange Land. Looking him up in Wikipedia, I found this quote which I might adopt at work: “Specialization is for insects.”

  90. 90
    Miss Bianca says:

    Well, great. Now the only way to get away from Elon’s satellites is to hide in one of his tunnels.

  91. 91
    Citizen_X says:

    @Elie: Not to dismiss the concerns with these satellites, but the light pollution from your local town is obscuring a lot more stars already.

  92. 92
    Baud says:

    @debbie:

    Now I feel underdressed.

  93. 93
    jl says:

    @Baud: ‘ America needs less dystopia and more Baudtopia! ‘

    The Baud 2020! Space Force will slingshot volunteers into space with plastic bags, stale beer, chips and snacking cakes, and extra large umbrella parachutes to police the satellites. And Musk thinks of himself as some visionary. Visionary that, Elon!

  94. 94
    Elie says:

    @Citizen_X:

    I understand that. Its just ADDING to what we are already not celebrating…

    Its a feeling of powerlessness — of seeing one more orca calf die here in the Salish sea… Forces beyond my seeming control. Anguish as I try to figure out where I can add my energy to help us …

    My husband and I were in Africa this February… I remember looking up to the stars and nebulae and marveling at the miracle and beauty of it — so grateful to be able to see a glimpse into eternity…

    I’m not giving up but right this minute — I am sad

  95. 95
    Mnemosyne says:

    @cain:

    I think Andina was one of the places I looked at, but most of them had mostly seafood, and I hate seafood. Even the fancy tasting menu places were at least half seafood, and I didn’t see the point of spending a ton of money on a meal that I wouldn’t want to eat.

    A meetup is being discussed with a potential special guest from a little further north.

    @Yutsano:

    This is for G to take me to on my actual birthday post-communing with the sea otters at the zoo. See above comments about my hatred of seafood.

  96. 96
    My Side of Town says:

    @debbie:

    Stranger in a Strange Land

    Yeah, I was just thinking about that and it was probably the most influential read of my life.

  97. 97
    Baud says:

    @Elie:

    Agree. The night sky without light pollution is breathtaking.

  98. 98
    jl says:

    Funny that I just heard on the news that Musk has admitted that trains do have a place in his mass transit dreams. He has decided that less refined and special people may need a mass transit system where strangers have to sit and stand within the vicinity of others (which he previously dismissed as ‘icky’). Musk has decreed that the surface of the earth should be reserved for trains, while underground will be the domain of his automobile wonder tunnels.

    I hope Musk has thought out his space satellite internet system more thoroughly than he has his mass transit ideas.

  99. 99
    jl says:

    @Baud: On a clear night. I don’t know what Baud 2020! thinking is on ‘clear nights’.

  100. 100
    Baud says:

    @jl:

    I’d love to take a train to Mars.

  101. 101
    jl says:

    @Baud: You need to interview for a gig with Musk. You’re a person with vision.

  102. 102
    NotMax says:

    @Baud

    Well, you can get within 30 miles by train.

    :)

  103. 103
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @Miss Bianca: lol

    @Elie: we noticed the same thing in Africa a couple of weeks ago. Was intense. Unless that was just the iboga.

  104. 104
    Paul T says:

    This satellite talk is unnecessarily alarmist. I have watched satellites fly over for years, and they are usually so dim that they cannot be seen unless you are in a dark sky spot and you can find it in the sky. I do watch the space station and the brighter objects, which are usually tumbling rockets, but their magnitudes are often in the minus category and are easy to spot for a few hours near sunset/sunrise.

    Here is a list of the dozens of satellites technically “visible” over Socal tonight. The list can probably be duplicated for any location on earth, and so far it hasn’t seemed to hamper anyone’s star watching.

    https://www.heavens-above.com/AllSats.aspx?lat=0&lng=0&loc=Unspecified&alt=0&tz=UCT

  105. 105
    Dog Dawg Damn says:

    @Paul T: Real scientists raise alarm over 12,000(!) satellites that interfere with their ability to continue to do work.

    Internet rando says it’s alarmist, because he can’t see them with his naked eye in the most light-polluted area in the U.S.

    The internet….always delivering dystopia.

  106. 106
    Paul T says:

    @dog dawg damn, I spend plenty of time at dark sky spots, and the mag 4 satellites are almost impossible to see. It is a big sky out there, and at most, there will be hardly any of them visible to you, and even then the light would have to hit them exactly right. There are already thousands of objects in orbit around the earth.

    Internet rando, signing off. I’ll be out looking at the sky tonight in the most light polluted city in the US and I bet I can spot Starlink.

    https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Space_debris

  107. 107
    Hkedi [Kang T. Q.] says:

    So as far as the questions of night sky “Why don’t they paint them black”. there are about 3 interrelated answers to that.
    1) Putting anything into orbit is ridiculous expensive. The old saying was $10,000 per pound to Low Earth orbit (LEO), SpaceX as brought that down a lot, but probably not down to the $1,000/pound they were talking about. Maybe $2-5K, but they have completely disrupted the rocket market anyway. ULA, a joint company between Lockheet martin and Boeing (Think of the money and political pull behind THAT), have been scrambling ever since. Black paint=money+ extra technical risk,

    2) The solar cells (which are flat) are not yet perfectly black. The manufacturers try to suck up every single photon (better solar cells = smaller panels = less money to launch to orbit), but they aren’t there yet. The very best solar cells that can be made (multi-junction solar cells) with an efficiency of 50-60% are put on them, but the quest for 100% goes on

    3) Our eyes, and telescopes are ridiculously sensitive. Under optimal conditions, our eyes can detect ~20% of the photons that can enter our eyes. Telescopes, which by design have much larger “eyes” can detect something in the range of 50-90% depending on color. Daylight gives about 10^19 photons per second, per meter. With telescopes and dark adapted eyes, any satellite that isn’t coated in vantablack will shine like a star. (The moon is as reflective as asphalt, and look how bright that is)

  108. 108
    StringOnAStick says:

    Time for a real Butlerian jihad. What Musk wants for the world will be the rat fucking of 2016 ever exponentially increasing and on a completely global scale. The oligarchs must be salivating.

  109. 109
    cmorenc says:

    @Citizen_X:

    @Elie: Not to dismiss the concerns with these satellites, but the light pollution from your local town is obscuring a lot more stars already.

    …including especially the jackasses who mount bright unshielded LED fixtures facing 45 degrees outward instead of horizontally facing down. Properly installed down-facing side-shielded fixtures will easily bathe e.g. a parking lot with ample light – all that the unshielded side-angle mounting accomplishes is to waste much of the fixture’s light via harsh light trespass on the surrounding area, under the mistaken notion that doing so expands the effective coverage area of the lights.

    People are able to see things at night by light *reflected* off their surfaces – whereas having the direct glare of the fixture itself visible actually interferes with our eyes’ ability to articulately see things in a similar manner to having a flashlight shone directly at your face.

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