(IAAC) FWD: Iridium flares

Forwarded without Dr. Skiff's permission...

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Date: Mon, 8 Jun 1998 13:19:47 -0700
From: bas@lowell.edu (Brian Skiff)
To: aavso-discussion@physics.mcmaster.ca
Subject: Iridium flares

     Just to put in a dissenting voice on these events, which everyone
seems to enjoy so much:  these satellites and their successors (hundreds
more on the way)  are the death knell of ground-based astronomy both in
the visible and at radio wavelengths.  How long will it be before one of
these wonderous -7 flares happens right where I'm pointing my photoelectric
photometer and physically destroys it (and the project I've been running
with that tube for 14 years)?  It will very soon not be possible to take
an image of any kind without getting these and their fainter brethren
screwing things up---not just aesthetically, but ruining photometry from
the scattered light, misleading object-detection algorithms, etc.  Already
we records satellite trails by the hundred each night we observe with
our small Schmidt camera.  These pager-satellites are also broadcasting
at a frequency adjacent to the OH band in the radio, making study of this
molecule in interstellar space basically impossible.  The "agreement"
that you read about in S&T says merely that they won't blast out the
western hemisphere eight hours during the night (radio astronomy works 24/7,
in case you hadn't noticed).  It's the beginning of the end folks---do your
observing _now_, while you can.  And since putting one of these satellites
up probably costs about as much as the entire US astronomy budget for a
year, guess who loses....all so teenagers can carry a pager around (heaven
forbid that they might miss a call from their friends!).
     Sorry to sound like a reactionary and a recidivist, but every time
you see one of these things, don't cheer, because they are bad news for


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