Should We Embrace - Or Sue - The Moving Lights In The Night Sky?

Toward a greater good: TMT & Starlink, Pamela Gay, Medium

"We have a choice to either deny people the internet to make it easier for people to do ground-based astronomy, in the process denying them educational, financial, and other opportunities. Alternatively, we can slow the progress of astronomy, and build into our observing plans the need to linger longer on targets to make sure we get satellite free images, while at the same time allowing Starlink and other satellite constellations to grant global access to the internet you are using to read these words. Yes, they sky will be full of satellites, but which is the greater good?"

Concerns about ground based astronomical observations: A step to Safeguard the Astronomical Sky, arXiv

"Also, as it turns out, according to the Outer Space Treaty and its progeny, there are no private companies operating in outer space, but only governments can operate in outer space. And the legal process is that the state government, this time the USA government, is legally responsible for all objects sent into outer space that launch from USA borders. That means, that it is the USA government that is responsible for the harm caused by its corporation, Starlink, sending objects into orbit that cause harm. So under this international law, any country that suffers harm by Starlink can sue the United States government in the International Court of Justice in the Hague. ... So it is essential that a government, like Chile, Italy or France, sues the USA in the International Court of Justice."

Keith's note: Of course if the lawyers decide that SpaceX satellites are illegal it follows that all satellites can be declared illegal since a substantial number can be seen with the naked eye. Airplanes can also ruin one's view of the sky so they'd certainly be subject to legal bans as well. And streetlights, the biggest offenders of all when it comes to ruining the night sky, would also be subject to legal action - globally. As Pamela Gay notes in her article "I can't think of any western child who is taken out and taught the darkest skies are our cultural heritage, and if the skies are sacred and need protected, why is it so hard to pass lighting ordinances?"

There is a strange confluence here. Astronomers who would deny humanity the chance to place their scientific instruments atop high mountains to study the splendor of the universe for the benefit of all would also deny billions of their fellow humans access to the same global communications capabilities that the developed world has so as to share in that knowledge. In both cases the developed world's elite astronomers (via lawyers) want to deny access by people in the developing world to the nature of the universe around them and the benefits of a planetary scale civilization. That is not a good thing to aspire to. It is also immensely ironic when you consider that we in the developed world have ruined our own night skies and use our global information access for p0rn, online shopping, and cat videos.

And by the way - there is some inaccuracy in the arguments about Starlink i.e. which populations it will serve. To be certain the developing world will reap the greatest benefit . But there are vast rural swaths of developed nations such as the U.S, Canada, Australia and other nations where there is no quality Internet access. Starlink will bring these people into the global community as well.

Pamela's piece is worth reading. It is certain to annoy people - on both sides of these issues. That's good. Maybe some people will start to work to overcome the obstacles poised by telescopes and satellites instead of deciding that they are insurmountable hurdles that can only be fought over in court.

For what its worth, below are instances of two people from the developed world interacting with people in less developed areas where the skies are dark - and filled with satellites. Both Pamela and I are reminding everyone that the choice to become a planetary-scale civilization with aspirations of becoming a space-faring civilization requires hard choices and new ways of looking at the universe around us as our increasing presence and influence changes the things that we see.

More below

My Star Trek Episode at Everest, Keith Cowing

"Away Team Encounters In The Khumbu

One night in April 2009, as I trekked through the Khumbu region toward Everest, I stayed in Dingboche (elevation 14,470 feet) at the aforementioned Hotel Arizona. I went outside to call my wife on the Iridium satphone. It was impossibly dark with a sky full of stars unlike any I had ever seen. I was just mesmerized. It was so dark that I literally walked right into a small yak that was wandering around the Hotel Arizona.

At one point my Sherpa Tashi came out. Tashi asked me why I was looking up at the sky. He had seen satellite phones before, so he knew what they did. I explained to him that it was hard to get a signal for more than a few minutes due to the high peaks surrounding us. So, I waited to see if I could spot an Iridium satellite (easy to do) and then dialed my wife. I knew I'd lose the call as soon as the satellite passed behind a mountain - but having the satellite in sight allowed me to parse my conversation.

Tashi is a very smart guy. But he was a bit perplexed about my satellite spotting. So I taught him how to do it and explained the different types of satellites and their orbits. Like his neighbors, Tashi had always assumed that all of the moving lights in the night sky were airplanes. When I told him that they were satellites lit by sunlight he asked how they could be lit by the sun at night. I asked him why some mountain peaks were still visible well after the sun goes down or glow before the sun rises. He answered matter of factly that this was because the mountains were very high. I then asked him to imagine a mountain 100 km tall - where satellites are - and said that this is why they were still visible. Having had the experience of 12 Everest summits under his belt and gazing out over vast expanses, Tashi immediately got the concept. Several days later I saw him teaching and explaining my satellite hunting tricks to several other Sherpas.

To this day I get a shiver from this - it was a very Star Trek moment - teaching someone what the "lights in the sky" were - with a piece of the Moon in my pocket on my way to meet a space traveller. Tashi was very psyched about that. But this was not my only Star Trek moment in Nepal."

Toward a greater good: TMT & Starlink, Pamela Gay, Medium

"Our shared sky

I have been looking sky ward my entire life. I still remember where I was the first time I say a satellite pass overhead. It was the summer of '89 and I was part of a People-to-People science exchange to the Soviet Union. I was the second youngest of 20 some odd high school students who were there to study astronomy and take place in random recreational activities. That night, a group of us were camping not too far from a glacier in the Caucus mountains, and because being a teenager is hard, I'd left the tent I shared with a bunch of others and sat on a rock. The sky was the darkest I'd ever seen -- we were hours drive from even a village -- and as I sat their contemplating the things a 15 year old girl contemplates, I saw a tiny speck of light moving in a way I'd never seen. As I stared, I realised it could only be one thing -- a satellite. That dot of light made me feel less alone and filled me with awe."

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on February 5, 2020 11:53 AM.

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