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BlueWalker 3: The giant satellite was noticeably dimmer temporarily

The huge BlueWalker 3 communications satellite, which is particularly bright in the sky, can be dimmed by aligning the huge antennas. That’s what three amateur astronomers suspect, who have been searching for an explanation as to why a satellite test of a new type of Internet access became noticeably darker for several weeks in December. They justified their attempt to explain this in a scientific article posted on the Arxiv preprint server but not verified. Recently, the satellite was as bright in the sky as it was after the giant antenna was fully opened.

As Scott Tilley explains, the group surrounding the completely unknown unknown assume that That the huge satellite should be realigned in DecemberTo get enough sunlight. As a result, the dark background in particular points toward the Earth, which is why the apparent brightness drops significantly. So far, no confirmation has been received from the satellite operator. However, the three amateur astronomers see the process as evidence that minor alignment adjustments can significantly reduce the brightness of such large satellites in the sky and the associated light pollution.

BlueWalker 3 is an AST SpaceMobile test satellite intended to prepare for the deployment of “the first and only space-based broadband network for traditional smartphones”. In the future, at least 100 of these giant satellites will orbit the Earth and provide underprivileged areas with broadband internet. The satellites are designed to connect directly to traditional smartphones to provide broadband internet connectivity. On the other hand, the area of ​​the exposed antenna is now 64 square metres. It is the largest commercial communications satellite in low Earth orbit.

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After the antenna was opened, BlueWalker 3 became one of the brightest objects in the night sky. It has partially reached an apparent magnitude of up to +1, only about 15 stars and five planets (plus the Moon) are much brighter. In addition, the satellite acts as a kind of “mobile tower in space” and transmits powerful radio waves at frequencies previously reserved for terrestrial communications. This is why the International Astronomical Union has expressed concern that the satellite is a problem for both optical and radio astronomy. AST SpaceMobile says the Internet project must solve one of its biggest problems. Amateur astronomers now believe that operators and the astronomy community can have a constructive dialogue based on obfuscation.

(Photo: KPNO/NOIRLab/IAU/SKAO/NSF/AURA/R. Sparks)


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