One of the Brightest Stars in the Sky is Actually a Satellite

The bright streaks drawing an arc across the night sky are caused by the satellite BlueWalker 3. The prototype satellite is brighter than most stars. Image Credit: Ilse Plauchu-Frayn

Back in the 70s, kids used to look up at the summer sky and try to be the first one to shout, “Satellite!” That seems like a relic from the past now, alongside Polaroid cameras and astronauts on the Moon. These days, it’s rare to spend any amount of time looking at the sky without seeing a satellite, or several of them.

A new satellite is emphasizing that fact. It’s a prototype communications satellite with a roughly 700-square-foot antenna, and it’s brighter than most stars.

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Light Pollution from Skyglow Changes Bird Behavior

In the astronomy community, we typically this of light pollution as an overall negative. Much research points out its negative effect on our sleep and even our observational equipment. It also significantly impacts wildlife; however, according to a new paper from some Belgian, Swiss, and German researchers, not all of that impact is negative. 

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Astronomers Map out the Radio Waves Coming From Large Satellite Constellations

Illustration Starlink satellites over LOFAR. Credit: Daniëlle Futselaar

Satellite internet constellations such as Starlink have the potential to make connect nearly the entire world. Starlink already provides internet access to remote areas long excluded by the internet revolution, and other projects such as OneWeb and Project Kuiper are in the works. But there are side effects to creating a massive array of low-orbit satellites, and one of them is the potentially serious effect on astronomy.

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Light Pollution is Out of Control

The Earth at night. What will it look like 100 years from now? Image credit: NASA-NOAA

Concern over global light pollution is growing. Astronomers are noticing its growing effect on astronomical observations, just as predicted in prior decades. Our artificial light, much of which is not strictly necessary, is interfering with our science.

But there’s more than just scientific progress at stake. Can humanity afford to block out the opportunities for wonder, awe, and contemplation that the night sky provides?

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Light Pollution is Obscuring the Night Sky. RIP Stargazing

A startling analysis from Globe at Night — a citizen science program run by NSF’s NOIRLab — concludes that stars are disappearing from human sight at an astonishing rate. Image Credit: NOIRLab/NSF/AURA, P. Marenfeld

A citizen science initiative called Globe at Night has some sobering news for humanity. Our artificial light is drowning out the night sky for more and more people. And it’s happening more rapidly than thought.

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Many of the World’s Greatest Observatories Suffer from Some Light Pollution

Night sky in the African country of Namibia. (Credit: Fabio Falchi; Licence Type: Attribution (CC BY 4.0))

In a recent study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, an international team of researchers examined the levels of light pollution at astronomical observatories from around the world to better understand how artificial light is impacting night sky observations in hopes of taking steps to reduce it. But how important is it to preserve the scientific productivity of astronomical observatories from the dangers of light pollution, as noted in the study’s opening statement?

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BlueWalker-3 Unfolds, Brightens One-Hundredfold

An artist's impression of BlueWalker-3 unfolded in orbit. Credit: ASTSpaceMobile

After months of waiting, we’re getting our first good looks at a fully deployed BlueWalker-3.

A new high-profile satellite may now be visible in a sky over you. We recently wrote about AST Space Mobile’s new BlueWalker-3 satellite, and its potential to be among the brightest objects in the night sky. Launched on September 10th, 2022 an a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket along with the Starlink Group 4-2 batch, BlueWalker-3 is the first of the company’s planned mega-constellation of 110 BlueBird satellites set to be deployed by the end of 2024 for worldwide communication.

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You Can Help Measure Light Pollution with Your Phone

Urban sprawl and accompanying light pollution is an issue for both astronomers and fireflies. This view shows the light dome from the city of Duluth, Minn. 20 miles north of town. Credit: Bob King

There’s no question that light pollution is a growing problem. Thankfully many scientists and advocates are working for change. And you can be a part of that change with a simple app that you can download to catalog the street lights in your neighborhood.

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How Could we Light our Cities and Still See the Night Sky?

Standing beside the Milky Way. Drowing out the night sky blocks us off from nature, and that's not good for humans. Credit: P. Horálek/ESO

The night sky is a part of humanity’s natural heritage. Gazing up at the heavens is a unifying act, performed by almost every human that’s ever lived. Haven’t you looked up at the night sky and felt it ignite your sense of wonder?

But you can’t see much night sky in a modern city. And the majority of humans live in cities now. How can we regain our heritage? Can quiet contemplation make a comeback?

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Light Pollution is Making it Harder for Animals to Find Their Way at Night

Ah, the majestic dung beetle. The pinnacle of evolution. In all seriousness, these little critters are incredibly sophisticated navigators who have, for millennia, used the night sky to guide them about their business. But light pollution is making their lives more difficult by limiting their ability to navigate by the stars. Other nocturnal creatures, including some birds and moths, may be facing similar challenges.

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