The BlueWalker mega satellite has now been launched

If you look up at the sky near Jupiter just after sunset, you may notice a bright new star moving rapidly across the sky.

This star isn’t a distant planet or galaxy — it’s the largest commercial communications satellite in low Earth orbit, the BlueWalker 3 satellite, which has now deployed its solar panels.

The apartment-sized satellite is a prototype from the US company AST SpaceMobile, which aims to create a space-based mobile broadband network. This is just one of several satellites planned for the SpaceMobile constellation — some of which will be larger than BlueWalker 3.

Amateur astronomers have reported BlueWalker 3 sightings over the past few weeks, many with an approximate brightness of 2Abbreviation II or 3Research and development Magnitude. This is moderately bright, but not as bright as Sirius – the brightest star in the night sky.

This means that some astronomers’ prediction that it “could outshine all the stars and planets in the night sky” did not come true.

However, a magnitude of 2 would put it in the top 50 brightest stars.

If you’d like to track it yourself, Heavens Above has just created a new satellite tracking tool. You can also use In The Sky and note your location. Note that it can only be seen immediately after sunset, as the sun reflects from below the horizon on the satellite and makes it bright.

The goal of AST SpaceMobile is to create cellular broadband anywhere in the world. Similar to Space X’s Starlink, many satellites are needed to create full coverage around the world.

There is currently a dispute between astronomers and satellite operators about these constellations. The higher the number, the greater the interference potential for both optical and radio astronomy.

Read more: The largest business communications suite ever launched. Expect to see it – it’s huge and bright

There is also the question of what we – as humans – are comfortable with. Having hundreds of these satellites in the sky at any given time means that when we look up, many of the bright lights in the sky will not be stars but satellites instead.

There are also potential issues around collisions in orbit making our skies unsafe.

Discussions are currently taking place between astronomers, satellite operators, and the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) about what satellites can do in the night sky. The next meeting will take place in 2023.

“Countries are generally supportive, and we have been successful in ensuring that the effects of radio and optical interference from large satellite constellations on astronomy are considered,” said Tim Stephenson, head of assurance at SKAO, after the last meeting in February.

“We look forward to preparing and preserving our case in Cobus, which is the world’s supreme forum for dealing with this issue.”

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