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Menopausal Mother Nature

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Space

BlueWalker 3, unfurled and bright

BlueWalker 3 satellite with panels open and facing a bright white sun.
BlueWalker 3 is the newest addition to our skies. With its giant solar panels unfurled, it’s now bright and visible to observers on Earth. Image via Abel Avellan/ Twitter.

Another new, bright satellite in our skies

BlueWalker 3, a communications satellite, has now unfurled in Earth-orbit. AST SpaceMobile launched this massive satellite in September 2022. It has now successfully unfurled to more than 26 feet per side. It’s currently the largest commercial communications satellite in low-Earth orbit, and the company has plans to eventually launch six of these satellites per month. But astronomers are concerned once again as a new and quite bright feature joins our skies. Want to see how bright it is for yourself? Read on.

How to see BlueWalker 3

People have already reported seeing BlueWalker 3 pass overhead in dark skies, comparing it to some of the brightest stars. In the tweet below, you can see the satellite passing through the bowl of the Big Dipper. The short streak of light that is BlueWalker 3 looks every bit as bright as the 2nd-magnitude stars in the bowl.

If you want to see for yourself just how bright BlueWalker 3 is in your skies, visit Heavens-Above.com to find when it will pass over your area. Many places in the United States will have visible passes in the evening sky starting at the end of the week. For example, on November 18, 2022, from EarthSky’s home office in Austin, Texas, we can see BlueWalker 3 rise around 6:49 p.m. local time in the southwest as it cuts across the sky between Saturn and Jupiter. The satellite will disappear around 6:55 p.m. on the eastern side of the Great Square of Pegasus. Satellites shine due to reflecting sunlight from high over Earth, so when they fall completely in Earth’s shadow, they disappear from view.

If you catch sight of it, leave us a note in the comments letting us know how bright it looked to you.

What is BlueWalker 3?

AST SpaceMobile described BlueWalker 3 (BW3) in relation to its milestone of unfurling:

BW3 is the largest-ever commercial communications array deployed in low-Earth orbit and is designed to communicate directly with cellular devices via 3GPP standard frequencies at 5G speeds. Now that it has been unfolded, the satellite spans 693 square feet in size, a design feature critical to support a space-based cellular broadband network. The satellite is expected to have a field of view of over 300,000 square miles on the surface of the Earth.

Abel Avellan, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of AST SpaceMobile, said:

The successful unfolding of BlueWalker 3 is a major step forward for our patented space-based cellular broadband technology and paves the way for the ongoing production of our BlueBird satellites.

Increasingly crowded skies

The issue of increasing satellites in our skies is becoming a familiar complaint. How can humans balance the racing technological advances but still preserve our dark skies?

Astronomers are trying to work with the satellite companies such as SpaceX with its burgeoning Starlink satellites to find some kind of compromise. You can read more in How satellites harm astronomy: what’s being done.

Bottom line: BlueWalker 3 has unfurled, with its solar panel array spanning a whopping 693 square feet. You can easily spot this bright satellite, one of many to come, from Earth.

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