SpaceX Internet satellites continue to photograph comet NEOWISE


SpaceX Internet satellites continue to photograph comet NEOWISE

NEOWISE and Starlink on July 23. Image: John Crouch

If you haven’t had a chance to catch a glimpse of Comet NEOWISE, you might want to get out after sunset to check it out before this beautiful glowing ball of ice disappears in the weeks to come. This will be your last chance to see him for 6,800 years, after all.
However, be aware that your vision of the comet may be obscured by the bright reflective satellites that make up SpaceX’s emerging constellation Starlink. In fact, satellites have photobombed the comet in images taken by night sky photographers around the world.
SpaceX, along with companies such as OneWeb and Amazon, are launching these mega-constellations to provide high-speed internet to communities around the world. Only a few hundred Starlink satellites have been launched to date, but eventually these arrays may contain thousands of individual spacecraft.
The deployment of abundant satellites in Earth orbit has elicited backlash from the global astronomical community due to the light pollution they introduce into the night sky.
“Satellite constellations such as Starlink are a major problem not only for professional astronomy, but also for being a misappropriation of the night sky – a natural heritage of all mankind – preventing the observation of a pristine sky” , said Raul Lima, who studies light pollution at the Polytechnic Institute of Porto in Portugal, in an email.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has recognized this problem and the company is responding by adding anti-glare umbrellas to the new batches of satellites. Still, the oldest and brightest satellites will stay in orbit for at least a few years, so sky-watchers can expect to be frequently “Starlinked,” a term astrophotographer Stacey Downton, aka AstroStace, used to describe the constellation’s interference with night. sky.
« [A]Right now, with software and stacked images, we can “reject” Starlink traces of our final stacked image, ”Downton said in an email. “But how long before we reach a point where we can’t do this anymore?”
According to Mark Brown, an Iowa-based astrophotographer, those hoping to capture long exposures of celestial views are especially prone to getting Starlinked.
« [W]With the recent launch of the Starlink satellites and other large companies wanting to do the same, are now facing a crisis of “sky pollution” with these hundreds of satellites, “Brown noted in an email.
“I understand that SpaceX is trying to practice satellites that are shielded so that they don’t reflect as much sunlight,” he continued. “Either way, in long exposure imagery, satellite trails will always be apparent. Can they be removed from the images? Sure, but it takes time and resources. “
Chicago-based architectural and commercial photographer John Crouch learned it the hard way when he tried to capture NEOWISE on Wednesday night, only to find traces of satellites in most of his photos.
“I don’t photograph the night sky very often and last night was the first time in a few years,” Crouch said in an email. “I was somewhat shocked at the number of satellite passes that ended up in the photos. I shot there for about six hours and I would say about half of two-thirds had Starlink satellites in the shots.

The Andromeda Galaxy, with Starlink trials. Image: John Crouch

“It basically takes three hours to get from Chicago to dark skies (and three hours back),” he continued. “I’m sure you can imagine my boredom fueled by fatigue at these satellites for crashing my photos!” And that is part of the problem. Light pollution is everywhere humans reside. The irony is that Musk’s plan to provide service in underserved areas undermines one of the few unique advantages of living in a remote environment.
Julien H. Girard, physicist and supporting scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, also pointed out that these mega-constellations are particularly damaging to dark rural skies.
“For the general public at any time after dusk and before dawn there will be more sats visible in the sky, especially in rural areas, probably dozens,” he said in an email. .
“As a tech lover to a certain extent, I see why people find it ‘cool’,” added Girard. “I also love watching SpaceX rockets land on Earth for reuse. But shouldn’t there be more regulations? A more scientific and ethical assessment of what is OK and what is not? Long-term planning? “
At this point, Girard cited several recent efforts to anticipate the effects of escalating satellite light pollution on astronomy from large organizations such as the European Southern Observatory and the American Astronomical Society.
Lima also stressed that international constellation regulation is “urgent” in order to preserve an unobstructed view of the night sky, especially when rare and beautiful visitors such as NEOWISE show up.
“Due to increasing levels of light pollution around the world, when these short-term phenomena occur, like a comet visiting, to see it properly, we now have no choice but to travel tens or hundreds of kilometers to find a place with less light pollution, ”said Lima.
“It is a permanent problem for those who are lucky enough to live under a pristine sky, that is to say without light pollution”, he continued. “For those of us who are for the moment condemned to live under a sky polluted with strong light (the majority of the population), even under a dark sky, these citizens will not have the possibility to contemplate a night starry without strong artificial interference. “
Jaime Cordova, a Wisconsin-based astrophotographer, pointed out that “a rare astronomical event” such as the appearance of comet NEOWISE means “every shot counts.”
“I see a lot of arguments put forward that ‘it’s time for astronomers to give up a monopoly on the sky’ and that will push for more space telescopes, but that’s just not the case,” said Cordova in an email. “It’s hard to place telescopes in space.”
“Other than that, the night sky is a beautiful thing to watch (and wonder about),” he concluded. “I want to see real constellations, not satellite constellations.”
SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.


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