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A few weeks ago I was helping out at Stromlo on a starry night when I spotted something interesting in the sky. I mentioned to my guests that they should get out of the dome quickly, with which we could see a trail of very bright white spots moving across the sky like a heavenly conga line. Everyone (including myself) was very impressed by the sight and I told them that they were lucky enough to see it. However, when I think back I wonder if it will be in the future that we will be lucky enough not to see it. You may have seen this for yourself lately – that line of light in the sky. The objects in question were the Starlink satellite constellation. They want to launch a large number of SpaceX̵
7;s roughly 12,000 small satellites. The aim is to bring high speed satellite internet to the whole world. These satellites would whiz around the earth about 500 km above our heads – known as low earth orbit, which takes 90 minutes to complete a round of the globe. Over 700 of them have already started ongoing tests of the network. People get around 100 Mb / s and it should just get faster. While this sounds like a fantastic idea that will allow access to disadvantaged and unreached areas of the world on the Internet and at competitive prices for other service providers, there are a number of problems that keep astronomers pausing. The first is light pollution; A term usually used as a rationale for setting up observatories outside of bright cities and their lights. Starlink satellites are pretty reflective, as I saw for myself a few weeks ago, and with 12,000 or more of them, these satellites are very likely to roam over many astrophotographers’ cameras. This is particularly problematic for radio astronomers, many of whom live in Australia. All of these satellites will communicate with and with each other, whose signals pollute the signals from stars and galactic sources that astronomers want to explore. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has made a pledge to lower the reflectivity of his satellites, but they will still have an impact. The second problem is space debris. With so many satellites flying in such a small space, the likelihood of colliding with another satellite is quite high. The debris from a collision can be devastating (especially if you are Sandra Bullock in the movie Gravity). Even a patch of paint at this height can act like a ball due to its speed and cause even more damage. Other companies, including Amazon and Samsung, are also planning to join SpaceX, including their own 1000 satellites. Hence, it may be inevitable that our night skies will be filled with heavenly conga lines. Whether the loss of a clear night sky is worth global internet access is a question government agencies and the public must ask – and soon.