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Elon Musk has done the “impossible” again. Now he has lofted the first of thousands of satellites that will use solar power to travel in a connected path around Earth, with the ultimate goal of enabling people anywhere on the planet to access the internet. No longer will those in remote places be cut off from the amazing amount of information found on the World Wide Web. Musk argues that disadvantaged people will be given greater access to the planet’s resources and information sharing. However you feel about the sharing or trolling this will make possible, you have to admit that this will change lives forever, and that Musk has accomplished something incredible.
Some of us are less than enthusiastic about having 24/7 access to the Net, though. In fact, we will even travel long distances to reach places where we are cut off from it. Those are getting harder to find, but parts of the planet still have no Net access at all. There, hikers, campers and kayakers can escape temporarily from the Net’s cacophony. Many such places are in the national parks.
|With Ranger Kevin Sweeney at Lassen|
A few years ago my partner and I did some volunteer work in two parks with Night Sky programs: Lassen Volcanic National Park in California, and Acadia National Park in Maine. We watched enthusiastic amateur and professional astronomers set up their telescopes and help novice users to scan the heavens. Children and adults gasped as they saw the Milky Way for the first time, or saw the rings of Saturn. Apps for cell phones can be interesting and helpful, but they don’t hold a candle to seeing the real thing.
Many professional astronomers have already objected to the satellites on the grounds that they may interfere with studies of distant stars and planets. Musk insists that the satellites will only be visible during limited times, and that astronomy will not be affected. Not being privy to the details of the project, and not being an astronomer, I can’t comment on that, though I have my doubts.
What I can object to is the change in the night sky this will produce. My field is science education, and I have seen how viewing the natural night sky can motivate children (including the astronomers of tomorrow) to learn about the heavens. They need to have the sense of wonder that can be found in a lonely, Net-less dark place where they can see stars and planets the way the ancient Greeks saw them.. They do not need to see a series of satellites.
Copyright 2019 by Carol Leth Stone