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Lunar eclipse, for the last time?

26 May 2021

Apparently there is a full lunar eclipse taking place tonight.

Poke your head out the window at 11pm or so and you'll see a "blood supermoon", a rather emotive name for an unusual conincidence of factors that conspire to produce a larger-than average moon sitting in the earth's shadow.

Celestial events that can be witnessed with the naked eye are always good fun and providing cloud-cover doesn't ruin the night, this one will be one of the better ones, or so we're told.

Another reason to take the time to go have a look is the sad reality that we may not get to enjoy such events for too much longer.

Why not?

In a word: Starlink

Astronomers around the world, both professional and amateur in capacity, are sounding strong warnings that the growing number of satellites in orbit around the planet are creating damaging light polution that threatens their observations of the heavens.

That's not to say that Starlink clusters are not pretty spectacular to see all by themselves but they really do threaten some of the science we're using to better understand the universe around us. It is becoming increasingly difficult to see the real stars through the growing number of man-made satellites orbiting above our heads.

Starlink have tried to reduce the reflectivity of their birds but with only marginal effect and there has been little comment by other operators who have plans to launch similar operations.

I find it rather ironic that at the same time we have regulators bringing out all sorts of new restrictions and regulations to cope with a sky that they think will be darkened by swarms of drones -- nobody seems to be doing a thing to address the issues caused by night-skies that are already lit and fogged by the growing number of small internet satellites.

Perhaps being able to watch funny cat videos online really is more important than probing the depths of space in search of new insight into the origins of the universe with our telescopes.

It's a sad world.

Perhaps this will be self-regulating though. Maybe, once ISPs and other data carriers realise that Starlink has the potential to make a huge dent in their profits, they'll lobby governments to start restricting the numbers of such satellites -- if only for the sake of the mighty dollar, not for something as unimportant as science.

Or perhaps instead we'll simply see that once Musk has proven the immense profitability of his Starlink network, others will simply invest their own billions to replicate its functionality in an attempt to grab some of that market share.

At that stage, our great grandchildren will probably ask their parents "why are all the stars moving?" and those who saw the lunar eclipse of 2021 will tell those kids of the days when the night sky was clear and not so bright.

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