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(Big Think)   Astronomers are racing to save the night sky from satellite megaconstellations, and nobody even cares   (bigthink.com) divider line
    More: Sad, Satellite, Sky, Light pollution, Atmosphere, Orbit, ubiquitous satellites, Night sky, Earth  
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430 clicks; posted to STEM » on 21 Oct 2021 at 6:18 AM (6 weeks ago)   |   Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook



45 Comments     (+0 »)
View Voting Results: Smartest and Funniest
 
2021-10-21 6:13:09 AM  
Satellites are awesome.  Who cares about some star a thousand miles away?
 
2021-10-21 6:32:41 AM  
People won't even try to save the planet they live on, the air they breath, the water they drink...
 
2021-10-21 6:56:40 AM  
If only there was a way to gather astronomical data without interference from overhead satellites. Or of the atmosphere, that is also adding noise to the observations.
 
2021-10-21 7:02:57 AM  
People will care when they start failing and falling and space junk punches a great big hole in their roof.
 
2021-10-21 7:29:51 AM  
I don't see it ruining amateur astronomy any time soon - there will always be a patch of sky you can look at to see things with your $100 refractor telescope.

I don't see it ruining 'bleeding edge' astronomy, because at this point we really ought to be focusing on space-based telescopes.

There are a number of people who fall between the two extremes who will have less fun and have to work harder for less interesting results, but it won't end astronomy and those satellites will provide services for the billions of others who aren't into astronomy.
 
2021-10-21 8:05:41 AM  

turboke: If only there was a way to gather astronomical data without interference from overhead satellites. Or of the atmosphere, that is also adding noise to the observations.


Sigh- this comes up every time this discussion occurs.  Space based telescopes are not a solution.  Stop pretending they are

Survey scopes like Rubin are the worst affected.  Rubin cannot be built in orbit.  Not "We need better launch or orbital engineering", cannotbecause it's "We need better physics"  Unless you have a magic way to take a 100 ton object, spin it rapidly, then stop instantly, hold perfectly still for 3 minutes and then do it again, over and over for decades, stop suggesting we put them in space.

Ditto the next generation of optical telescopes.  There's a reason there's no Hubble 2- because with adaptive optics resolution is less of a problem than light gathering power.  Astronomers are building things like the TMT and EELT with 30-40m diameter mirrors.  We can barely build these on Earth- pretending we can do it in orbit is a fantasy

Space telescopes for things the atmosphere blocks?  Great, but we've sunk a brazillion dollars into Webb and it's a tiny fraction of the size of anything ground based.  No way a 30m telescope goes to orbit in my lifetime.
 
2021-10-21 8:10:54 AM  

namegoeshere: People will care when they start failing and falling and space junk punches a great big hole in their roof.


Pffft....when was the last time that ever happened?

I'll wait.....
 
2021-10-21 8:15:11 AM  
Nobody cares because such a huge portion of the population lives in urban areas where you can count the number of visible stars with two hands and your chances of seeing an actual satellite are basically zero.
 
2021-10-21 8:20:53 AM  
Our world is literally burning to ash while we do nothing about it, and you expect us to care about the night sky?
 
2021-10-21 8:24:03 AM  
How will wayfarers navigate at night?
 
2021-10-21 8:24:44 AM  

NEDM: Our world is literally burning to ash while we do nothing about it, and you expect us to care about the night sky?


It is possible to care about two things at once

And as TFA notes, dumping many tons of metals into the upper atmosphere will have unknown effects on the climate
 
2021-10-21 8:24:47 AM  
Fark user imageView Full Size
 
2021-10-21 8:30:49 AM  
The sky doesn't belong to astronomers. They are trying to stop progress, just like when people protest building massive telescopes on mountaintops. Farking hypocrites.
 
2021-10-21 8:41:15 AM  
This is not a thing outside of the media giving themselves blowies.  This is about as real as the "labor shortage".
 
2021-10-21 8:43:29 AM  

Glockenspiel Hero: NEDM: Our world is literally burning to ash while we do nothing about it, and you expect us to care about the night sky?

It is possible to care about two things at once

And as TFA notes, dumping many tons of metals into the upper atmosphere will have unknown effects on the climate


Yeah, we dont give a rats ass about ethans opinion on anything with how shiat his writing is. Saying it might do something to climate change is just some pathetic attempt to make it seem important


Its not. We have far bigger issues to deal with. This one isnt even in the top 5,000,000 unless you are directly involved with it
 
2021-10-21 8:59:24 AM  

Glockenspiel Hero: Space based telescopes are not a solution.  Stop pretending they are


How do feel about a radio telescope on the far side of the moon?
 
2021-10-21 8:59:38 AM  

Glockenspiel Hero: turboke: If only there was a way to gather astronomical data without interference from overhead satellites. Or of the atmosphere, that is also adding noise to the observations.

Sigh- this comes up every time this discussion occurs.  Space based telescopes are not a solution.  Stop pretending they are

Survey scopes like Rubin are the worst affected.  Rubin cannot be built in orbit.  Not "We need better launch or orbital engineering", cannotbecause it's "We need better physics"  Unless you have a magic way to take a 100 ton object, spin it rapidly, then stop instantly, hold perfectly still for 3 minutes and then do it again, over and over for decades, stop suggesting we put them in space.

Ditto the next generation of optical telescopes.  There's a reason there's no Hubble 2- because with adaptive optics resolution is less of a problem than light gathering power.  Astronomers are building things like the TMT and EELT with 30-40m diameter mirrors.  We can barely build these on Earth- pretending we can do it in orbit is a fantasy

Space telescopes for things the atmosphere blocks?  Great, but we've sunk a brazillion dollars into Webb and it's a tiny fraction of the size of anything ground based.  No way a 30m telescope goes to orbit in my lifetime.


I know a place with no atmosphere where a 100 ton object only weighs 16.6 tons.

My previous comment was meant as snark. I'm half serious about this one.

Construction is an engineering problem. Launch capacity for maintenance crews is being developed as we speak. Live communication is good enough to control the equipment. Bandwidth may be lacking to get high-res results back. Possible solutions: send low-res and request high-res based on those, let AI figure out what's worth sending, store on a physical carrier that's brought back by the next maintenance crew or piggybacks on another return mission.

It's certainly feasible if we only have to lift specific equipment and figure out how to construct the support structures from regolith. The main limitation will be the size of the mirrors we can fit in a launch vehicle.
 
2021-10-21 9:02:04 AM  
I farking care.  You know why I care?  Because I don't have broadband where I live so fark astronomy.

Broadband to rural areas will affect more people in a positive way that astronomy will.  I wish there was a way around it, but there isn't so deal with the occasional satellite.
 
2021-10-21 9:16:02 AM  

akallen404: Nobody cares because such a huge portion of the population lives in urban areas where you can count the number of visible stars with two hands and your chances of seeing an actual satellite are basically zero.


So, no problem because it doesn't effect you and your bike.
 
2021-10-21 9:28:59 AM  

Unsung_Hero: I don't see it ruining amateur astronomy any time soon - there will always be a patch of sky you can look at to see things with your $100 refractor telescope.

I don't see it ruining 'bleeding edge' astronomy, because at this point we really ought to be focusing on space-based telescopes.

There are a number of people who fall between the two extremes who will have less fun and have to work harder for less interesting results, but it won't end astronomy and those satellites will provide services for the billions of others who aren't into astronomy.


Well, I don't think it will effect any scientific research. Heck, we get Sats flying around all the time, and they're just as cool to look at as stars. I minored in Astrophysics...gravatational Astronomy tho. So not so much star looking but lots of DeltaV's etc. Try doing that on a Apple IIplus in 1982.
Anyways...they'll be replaced in a few years by something better and if they figure out heat problems they can just paint them black.
But also, I like BirdWatching.
 
2021-10-21 9:31:26 AM  

Unsung_Hero: I don't see it ruining 'bleeding edge' astronomy, because at this point we really ought to be focusing on space-based telescopes.


turboke: Construction is an engineering problem


First, not all "high-end" telescopes are equal. Some have high magnification, some have a large viewing angle, some are designed to use hyperspectral imagers, some are precision spectrometers for doing things like precision radial velocity measurements. Some of these things can be done much better on the ground, because it's way, way cheaper.

Second, the just because something could, conceivably be build in space doesn't mean it will be. There isn't actually that much money for astronomey: JWST's primary mirror is approximately the size of one of the Magellan telescopes, its mission length is (maybe) 10 years at most, and it cost something like $10 billion. Meanwhile, the Giant Magellan Telescope is in limbo because they haven't been able to raise the ~$1b to finish construction and simultaneously pay the staff they have on-hand.

You're basically making dozens of ground-based observatories somewhere between difficult to use and useless, but saying it doesn't matter as long as it's theoretically possible to get similar results from a space-based observatory.

It's like if you took the cars away from everyone in town, but told them that it's okay because they can reserve time on the one single Lamborghini left in town for $1000/hr.
 
2021-10-21 9:39:51 AM  

Martian_Astronomer: Unsung_Hero: I don't see it ruining 'bleeding edge' astronomy, because at this point we really ought to be focusing on space-based telescopes.

turboke: Construction is an engineering problem

First, not all "high-end" telescopes are equal. Some have high magnification, some have a large viewing angle, some are designed to use hyperspectral imagers, some are precision spectrometers for doing things like precision radial velocity measurements. Some of these things can be done much better on the ground, because it's way, way cheaper.

Second, the just because something could, conceivably be build in space doesn't mean it will be. There isn't actually that much money for astronomey: JWST's primary mirror is approximately the size of one of the Magellan telescopes, its mission length is (maybe) 10 years at most, and it cost something like $10 billion. Meanwhile, the Giant Magellan Telescope is in limbo because they haven't been able to raise the ~$1b to finish construction and simultaneously pay the staff they have on-hand.

You're basically making dozens of ground-based observatories somewhere between difficult to use and useless, but saying it doesn't matter as long as it's theoretically possible to get similar results from a space-based observatory.

It's like if you took the cars away from everyone in town, but told them that it's okay because they can reserve time on the one single Lamborghini left in town for $1000/hr.


You might know more than me about these thing. But they're about the size of a grapefruit...and how much luminosity do they have to significantly intersphere with ground observations? We have great ability to erase things in long exposure photography. Yup...there will be some aesthetic problems if they're very reflective....but I honestly like the idea of a 'constellation' of sats gliding by...it adds intrest to 'keep looking up'.
 
2021-10-21 9:52:15 AM  
Fark user imageView Full Size


Photos like this are a bit disingenuous because they are taken shortly after launch when the satellites are clumped together and lower to earth (which makes them brighter). Once the satellites reach their final orbits they are less bright and more spread out.
 
2021-10-21 9:59:17 AM  

The Googles Do Nothing: Satellites are awesome.  Who cares about some star a thousand miles away?


Especially spy sats paid for by the public
 
2021-10-21 9:59:58 AM  

turboke: If only there was a way to gather astronomical data without interference from overhead satellites. Or of the atmosphere, that is also adding noise to the observations.


And the public pays for it!!
 
2021-10-21 10:03:58 AM  

optikeye: Martian_Astronomer: Unsung_Hero: I don't see it ruining 'bleeding edge' astronomy, because at this point we really ought to be focusing on space-based telescopes.

turboke: Construction is an engineering problem

First, not all "high-end" telescopes are equal. Some have high magnification, some have a large viewing angle, some are designed to use hyperspectral imagers, some are precision spectrometers for doing things like precision radial velocity measurements. Some of these things can be done much better on the ground, because it's way, way cheaper.

Second, the just because something could, conceivably be build in space doesn't mean it will be. There isn't actually that much money for astronomey: JWST's primary mirror is approximately the size of one of the Magellan telescopes, its mission length is (maybe) 10 years at most, and it cost something like $10 billion. Meanwhile, the Giant Magellan Telescope is in limbo because they haven't been able to raise the ~$1b to finish construction and simultaneously pay the staff they have on-hand.

You're basically making dozens of ground-based observatories somewhere between difficult to use and useless, but saying it doesn't matter as long as it's theoretically possible to get similar results from a space-based observatory.

It's like if you took the cars away from everyone in town, but told them that it's okay because they can reserve time on the one single Lamborghini left in town for $1000/hr.

You might know more than me about these thing. But they're about the size of a grapefruit...and how much luminosity do they have to significantly intersphere with ground observations? We have great ability to erase things in long exposure photography. Yup...there will be some aesthetic problems if they're very reflective....but I honestly like the idea of a 'constellation' of sats gliding by...it adds intrest to 'keep looking up'.


The biggest problems are felt by survey telescopes/instruments which look for transients. From an earlier article on the subject: "The identification and tracking of potentially hazardous asteroids may no longer be possible, and we're almost certain to lose some scientific discoveries that we don't even know are there to be found."

Moreover, image processing in astronomy isn't precisely like image processing in art photography, in that scientists are always trying to work at the edge of detectability - Yes, they will usually average multiple images together, but subtracting out satellite trails does leave artifacts that can still matter to analysis.

Finally, there's the way that telescope time is actually scheduled: Astronomers doing astrophysical research can't just camp at a telescope as long as they like. They have to schedule time months in advance and usually at significant cost to their institution. They'll be at the telescope at sundown, go all night, and stay till sunup. If the weather is bad, you're SOL.

(I watched an interesting talk by an MIT economist that correlated the career trajectory of astronomers to the presence of bad weather nights on observing runs during grad school. One or two bad nights could set them back years, although they'd typically recover, eventually.)

Anyway, if you're in a situation where your observations are still technically doable but you need to throw out 75% of the frames and observe for 4x longer, that is going to cause a lot of research to not happen, because now the demand for telescope time is 4x higher, with all the associated economic implications.

There may not be a lot of interest in protecting dark sky for astronomy, and the constellations are happening, but internet commenters saying that the professional astronomers who complain don't know what they're talking about doesn't fill me with good feelings about humanity.
 
2021-10-21 10:06:22 AM  
Most Americans can't even see the night sky...

Fark user imageView Full Size


/The real night sky, that you get in the black areas.
 
2021-10-21 10:15:42 AM  

Martian_Astronomer: optikeye: Martian_Astronomer: Unsung_Hero: I don't see it ruining 'bleeding edge' astronomy, because at this point we really ought to be focusing on space-based telescopes.

turboke: Construction is an engineering problem

First, not all "high-end" telescopes are equal. Some have high magnification, some have a large viewing angle, some are designed to use hyperspectral imagers, some are precision spectrometers for doing things like precision radial velocity measurements. Some of these things can be done much better on the ground, because it's way, way cheaper.

Second, the just because something could, conceivably be build in space doesn't mean it will be. There isn't actually that much money for astronomey: JWST's primary mirror is approximately the size of one of the Magellan telescopes, its mission length is (maybe) 10 years at most, and it cost something like $10 billion. Meanwhile, the Giant Magellan Telescope is in limbo because they haven't been able to raise the ~$1b to finish construction and simultaneously pay the staff they have on-hand.

You're basically making dozens of ground-based observatories somewhere between difficult to use and useless, but saying it doesn't matter as long as it's theoretically possible to get similar results from a space-based observatory.

It's like if you took the cars away from everyone in town, but told them that it's okay because they can reserve time on the one single Lamborghini left in town for $1000/hr.

You might know more than me about these thing. But they're about the size of a grapefruit...and how much luminosity do they have to significantly intersphere with ground observations? We have great ability to erase things in long exposure photography. Yup...there will be some aesthetic problems if they're very reflective....but I honestly like the idea of a 'constellation' of sats gliding by...it adds intrest to 'keep looking up'.

The biggest problems are felt by survey telescopes/instruments which look for transients. From an earlier article on the subject: "The identification and tracking of potentially hazardous asteroids may no longer be possible, and we're almost certain to lose some scientific discoveries that we don't even know are there to be found."

Moreover, image processing in astronomy isn't precisely like image processing in art photography, in that scientists are always trying to work at the edge of detectability - Yes, they will usually average multiple images together, but subtracting out satellite trails does leave artifacts that can still matter to analysis.

Finally, there's the way that telescope time is actually scheduled: Astronomers doing astrophysical research can't just camp at a telescope as long as they like. They have to schedule time months in advance and usually at significant cost to their institution. They'll be at the telescope at sundown, go all night, and stay till sunup. If the weather is bad, you're SOL.

(I watched an interesting talk by an MIT economist that correlated the career trajectory of astronomers to the presence of bad weather nights on observing runs during grad school. One or two bad nights could set them back years, although they'd typically recover, eventually.)

Anyway, if you're in a situation where your observations are still technically doable but you need to throw out 75% of the frames and observe for 4x longer, that is going to cause a lot of research to not happen, because now the demand for telescope time is 4x higher, with all the associated economic implications.

There may not be a lot of interest in protecting dark sky for astronomy, and the constellations are happening, but internet commenters saying that the professional astronomers who complain don't know what they're talking about doesn't fill me with good feelings about humanity.


Personally, I get it.  I simply think priorities have been set and they're not objectively wrong.

They are very inconvenient for a small (but not unimportant) area of human activity, which is regrettable.
 
2021-10-21 10:19:01 AM  
I care.  Elon Musk can burn in hell.
 
2021-10-21 10:27:35 AM  

Martian_Astronomer: If the weather is bad, you're SOL.


Dr. Becky ran into this exact issue with bad weather. And a second time with a farking volcano!

Another reason to consider building them on the moon. Or Mars, to make your username really check out.
 
2021-10-21 10:37:40 AM  

syrynxx: I care.  Elon Musk can burn in hell.


Elon Musk electrified my truck and blasted my dog into space!
 
2021-10-21 10:47:51 AM  
If you ever want to see the impact of satellites on the night sky, you can see them using Stellarium. Sometimes there are "swarms" of them, and yes, they are usually Elon's Starlink satellites.

Just because, here's a pic I took earlier this week of Albireo in Bortle 6 to 7 skies. I was doing a series of pics of Eta Cygni last night and had to restart a couple of times due to satellites.

Fark user imageView Full Size


\Absolute astrophotography n00b
 
2021-10-21 11:59:05 AM  

Unsung_Hero: Personally, I get it.  I simply think priorities have been set and they're not objectively wrong.

They are very inconvenient for a small (but not unimportant) area of human activity, which is regrettable.


That's fair, I suppose, and most astronomers I know are treating it like it's both inevitable and tragic and looking for ways to cope. At the very least Starlink has demonstrated some willingness to try to lower the albedo of their satellites as much as possible, but that won't eliminate the problem.

/ I still regret popping into these threads almost every time, because arguing with randos who think a cellphone camera on a cubesat is equivalent to a ground-based observatory and therefore astronomers don't know what they're talking about is one of those no-win wrestling-with-a-pig activities.
 
2021-10-21 12:06:39 PM  

Glockenspiel Hero: NEDM: Our world is literally burning to ash while we do nothing about it, and you expect us to care about the night sky?

It is possible to care about two things at once

And as TFA notes, dumping many tons of metals into the upper atmosphere will have unknown effects on the climate


Fifty tons of meteor hits the earth each day. That's at least an order of magnitude greater than the max planned rate of deorbiting for Starlink satellites, and has been going on for a few billion years

We'll be fine
 
2021-10-21 12:30:15 PM  

DeadSeriousIdeaMan: People won't even try to save the planet they live on, the air they breath, the water they drink...


Dubtribe - Mother Earth
Youtube w5ZmhJOHXlA
 
2021-10-21 12:35:18 PM  

Martian_Astronomer: Unsung_Hero: Personally, I get it.  I simply think priorities have been set and they're not objectively wrong.

They are very inconvenient for a small (but not unimportant) area of human activity, which is regrettable.

That's fair, I suppose, and most astronomers I know are treating it like it's both inevitable and tragic and looking for ways to cope. At the very least Starlink has demonstrated some willingness to try to lower the albedo of their satellites as much as possible, but that won't eliminate the problem.

/ I still regret popping into these threads almost every time, because arguing with randos who think a cellphone camera on a cubesat is equivalent to a ground-based observatory and therefore astronomers don't know what they're talking about is one of those no-win wrestling-with-a-pig activities.


Is lowering satellite albedo a good choice, though?

If you see a streak of light in a long exposure, or a large displacement of a light across multiple images you at least know it's a satellite.

If you make it dark... now it is causing occultations that could have you chasing possibilities for a long time before you eliminate them as satellite transits.
 
2021-10-21 12:35:22 PM  

akallen404: Nobody cares because such a huge portion of the population lives in urban areas where you can count the number of visible stars with two hands and your chances of seeing an actual satellite are basically zero.


from 7:30 to 8pm Eastern a week ago, i counted 9 satellites passing over my house in the city of Philadelphia as i drank a St Ides and stoked the fire in the 55 gallon barrel.
 
2021-10-21 12:48:33 PM  

labman: I farking care.  You know why I care?  Because I don't have broadband where I live so fark astronomy.
Broadband to rural areas will affect more people in a positive way that astronomy will.  I wish there was a way around it, but there isn't so deal with the occasional satellite.


It will certainly make you a better shopper, and better social media user.  Is that what you meant by positive effects?
 
2021-10-21 1:24:10 PM  

optikeye: akallen404: Nobody cares because such a huge portion of the population lives in urban areas where you can count the number of visible stars with two hands and your chances of seeing an actual satellite are basically zero.

So, no problem because it doesn't effect you and your bike.


No problem for the 200 millionish people who live too close to urban areas to ever notice the difference. Speaking as a guy who owns a 10" casegran telescope and uses it fairly regularly but can rarely spot anything in the sky dimmer than the pleiades even when looking directly at it.

And i agree with others who've said satellite communications has a more substantial impact on our lives than astronomy ever will. Particularly since the kind of telescopes that really excel at asteroid surveys are, in fact, space based.
 
2021-10-21 1:43:24 PM  

labman: I farking care.  You know why I care?  Because I don't have broadband where I live so fark astronomy.

Broadband to rural areas will affect more people in a positive way that astronomy will.  I wish there was a way around it, but there isn't so deal with the occasional satellite.


There is a way around it by expanding local IT infrastructure to bring broadband capability out to remote areas, but selfish, corrupt assclowns such as Sinema and Manchin are keeping it from happening as well as telecoms that do not want to see that profit margin cut.
 
2021-10-21 1:43:37 PM  

akallen404: optikeye: akallen404: Nobody cares because such a huge portion of the population lives in urban areas where you can count the number of visible stars with two hands and your chances of seeing an actual satellite are basically zero.

So, no problem because it doesn't effect you and your bike.

No problem for the 200 millionish people who live too close to urban areas to ever notice the difference. Speaking as a guy who owns a 10" casegran telescope and uses it fairly regularly but can rarely spot anything in the sky dimmer than the pleiades even when looking directly at it.

And i agree with others who've said satellite communications has a more substantial impact on our lives than astronomy ever will. Particularly since the kind of telescopes that really excel at asteroid surveys are, in fact, space based.


Having dark skies is another issue all together than having a satellite communications. Why not both? Terrriestial light pollution is far more intrusive.

I think the 'look up' and see what humans can do creates more wonder and joy for kids for science than just dark skies without a human touch. Seeing the first space station in the sky and seeing satellites didn't diminish one bit from my love of astronomy...in fact it bonused it.
 
2021-10-21 4:19:39 PM  

labman: I farking care.  You know why I care?  Because I don't have broadband where I live so fark astronomy.

Broadband to rural areas will affect more people in a positive way that astronomy will.  I wish there was a way around it, but there isn't so deal with the occasional satellite.


Do you have electricity and indoor plumbing where you live? Or do you need a satellite for those as well?
 
2021-10-21 4:34:06 PM  

turboke: If only there was a way to gather astronomical data without interference from overhead satellites. Or of the atmosphere, that is also adding noise to the observations.


Numbers: ground-based > space
No amateur space telescopes. Fark Elun's streaks.
 
2021-10-21 5:03:52 PM  

The Googles Do Nothing: namegoeshere: People will care when they start failing and falling and space junk punches a great big hole in their roof.

Pffft....when was the last time that ever happened?

I'll wait.....


So we're due.
 
2021-10-22 3:50:40 PM  

bisi: labman: I farking care.  You know why I care?  Because I don't have broadband where I live so fark astronomy.

Broadband to rural areas will affect more people in a positive way that astronomy will.  I wish there was a way around it, but there isn't so deal with the occasional satellite.

Do you have electricity and indoor plumbing where you live? Or do you need a satellite for those as well?


Of course.  I can even get same day delivery from Amazon.  Just the cable providers skipped the street I live on when they deployed in the 80's and have never come back to get us.  Other than the two mile stretch of highway I live on, everyone in a 10 mile radius can get broadband.  Just not us or 5 other houses in this dead zone.

It'd be nice to be able to work from home or have streaming television instead of DirecTV.
 
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