Satellites and More – 2020 #1

Edmund Weiss (1837-1917) and many astronomers since have called asteroids “vermin of the sky”, but on October 4, 1957 another “species” of sky vermin made its debut: artificial satellites.  In the process of video recording stars for possible asteroid occultations, I frequently see satellites passing through my 17 × 11 arcminute field of view.

I’ve put together a video montage of satellites I serendipitously recorded during the first half of 2020.  Many of the satellites move across the field as “dashes” because of the longer integration times I need to use for some of my asteroid occultation work. A table of these events is shown below the video. The range is the distance between observer and satellite at the time of observation. North is up and east is to the left.

North is up and east is to the left; field size 17′ x 11′

Interestingly, three of the above satellites (7,9,18) are in retrograde orbits, that is their orbital inclination is > 90˚ and their east-west component of motion is towards the west instead of the east. However, I was surprised to find that two of the prograde orbiting satellites (5,6) appear to be orbiting retrograde! Both have orbital inclinations close to 90˚ (82.6˚ and 87.5˚, respectively), and both were in the western sky at northern declinations at the time of observation. But another satellite (8) with an orbital inclination of 82.5˚ at a southern declination in the southern sky at the time of observation exhibited the expected “barely” prograde motion. I suspect the ~0.5 km/s rotation of the Earth towards the east might have something to do with this “apparent retrograde” motion, but I was unable to find any reference that describes this situation.

Satellite #12 has an interesting story. It is the Inertial Upper Stage (IUS) used to launch USA-48 (Magnum), a classified DoD payload, from the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-33).

In addition to these 18 satellites, I observed 7 geosynchronous satellites, shown below.

This non-operational Soviet communications satellite is a “tumbler”, meaning its changing orientation causes variation in its brightness, as shown below.

This non-operational communications satellite is also a tumbler, as seen in this light curve from a portion of the video.

SGDC-1 is a Brazilian geostationary communications satellite stationed over longitude 75˚ W, and in this video is followed by Star One C3 which will replace Brasilsat B3, also located over longitude 75˚ W.
Star One C3, a geostationary television satellite led by SGDC-1 and followed by GOES-16.
GOES-16, a geostationary weather satellite that is the primary weather satellite for the U.S., is stationed over longitude 75.2˚ W. Star One C3 precedes it in this video.
Intelsat 16 is a geostationary television satellite stationed over longitude 76˚ W currently.

There were four satellites I was unable to identify, shown in the video below. They were either classified satellites or, more likely, small pieces of space debris that only government agencies or contractors are keeping track of.

Unidentifiable satellites

Occasionally, I record other phenomena of interest. Meteors during this period are described here, and you will find a couple of other curiosities below.

An aircraft with flashing lights passed near the field containing UCAC4 376-101735 between 10:06:44 and 10:06:47 UT on 16 Apr 2020.
High energy particles zap the imaging chip from time to time, and here is one of the more interesting ones during the period, recorded on 9 May 2020 from 9:09:18 – 9:09:20 UT in the field of UCAC4 397-127754.

Hughes, D. W. & Marsden, B. G. 2007, J. Astron. Hist. Heritage, 10, 21

Repurposing an Existing Community

One approach to establishing a dark-sky, astronomy-friendly, community is to find a small town in a rural area that would be receptive to doing the following:

  1. Enact a comprehensive lighting ordinance that will be enforced
  2. Eliminate all dusk-to-dawn outdoor lighting
  3. Apply for International Dark Sky Community status

Obviously, this is going to be easier to do in a small community, and most likely one that is economically depressed.

What’s in it for them? What would the motivating factors be?

  • A commitment from X number of people that they would move to the community provided the community agrees to 1-3 above being done. Options for new residents would be to either purchase or rent an existing home/apartment/RV space/etc., or to build the same but land would have to be available.
  • The new residents would commit to working with the existing residents and businesses to improve the community and provide new opportunities, ensuring that this is a win-win situation for both existing and new residents.
  • The new residents would commit to doing some or all of the things outlined in the Mirador Astronomy Village specifications document, or something like it.
  • The influx of new residents and tourism will benefit all in the community, both economically and socially.

Does anyone know of a rural community that might be interested in putting their town “on the map” as an astronomy-friendly community for residents and visitors?

The Great Divide

A few quotes come to mind when considering the current hyperpartisan and politically polarized environment in the United States.

“The beatings will continue until morale improves.” – Anonymous

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” – H. G. Wells

One thing is for sure. The systemic problems in our political system will remain firmly in place no matter who wins the election.

I want to live in a place where we can work together, despite our differences, to make real progress towards the following goals:

  • Free or inexpensive basic healthcare not tied to one’s employer
  • Free or inexpensive post-secondary education
  • Affordable housing and tiny house villages for the homeless
  • Universal Basic Income (UBI)
  • An economy based on building things that last and are able to be repaired or recycled, rather than rapidly consumed and thrown away
  • Currency that is neither artificially scarce nor debt-based, and that takes into account everything of value to society
  • Public policy based on a humanistic worldview where decisions are guided by facts not faith, science not religion
  • A gradual reduction in the world’s population through the only humane way available—having fewer children
  • Tight restrictions on gun ownership and training requirements for those who do own guns
  • Binding and enforceable international laws
  • A stronger and more effective United Nations
  • A completely decentralized power grid powered by renewable energy sources, primarily solar and wind
  • Substantially scale back on the use of fossil fuels
  • A strong public transportation system, including high-speed passenger rail

I’m sure those of you of a similar persuasion could add many more items to this list, but you get the idea which “side” I am on. (Hint: It is not the side that has most of the guns.)

There are many people who want these things. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could live someplace where we could work towards these goals without our every effort being blocked?

We have built a lifestyle that is economically and ecologically unsustainable. We are fast running out of time and options. Smart people address problems before they get to be crises.

What are our options, besides a slow, miserable, and probably violent descent into dystopia (i.e. life’s a bitch and then you die)?

  1. Divide the U.S. into autonomous enclaves
  2. Leave the U.S. (if anyone will have us)
  3. Form or join an intentional community where people with similar goals and beliefs can demonstrate to the wider world a better way to live, a better way to govern

1 and 3 are similar, but 3 would be on a much smaller scale—no more than about 150 people. Small is beautiful.

A few years ago, at a friend’s recommendation, I watched a movie based on a brilliant idea but crudely executed (and I do mean crudely): Idiocracy. It seems we are already well on the way to the dystopian existence portrayed in that 2006 movie. Though Idiocracy is brilliant satire, I would love to see a remake that is more discerning and family friendly so it can reach a wider audience.

There’s a great divide in my life, too. On the one hand, I want to finally live far away from city lights during my retirement years in an astronomy-friendly intentional community that has no dusk-to-dawn lighting. But on the other hand, I would love to live in a politically progressive city with a first-rate symphony orchestra and a vibrant classical music scene. Observational astronomy and classical music are my two biggest interests, but their venues are mutually incompatible.

Challenges, large and small.


John Lennon

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us, only sky

Imagine all the people
Livin’ for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too

Imagine all the people
Livin’ life in peace

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one