The goal sounds altruistic enough, to provided Internet access both to remote places on Earth where few terrestrial and satellite networks can reach as well as future network connectivity to structures orbiting around the Earth in outer space. Elon Musk’s Starlink vision, however, has long been criticized by the scientific community, especially the astronomy field, for polluting the night sky and making it difficult if not impossible to have a clear view of celestial objects from the ground. That situation struck home hard last week when astrophotographers found their photos of the rare Neowise comet ruined by almost dozens of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites.
Neowise was its closest to our planet last Thursday, which is when amateur and professional astronomers got out their equipment to capture this historic moment. Unfortunately, that rare moment was marred by a couple of Starlink satellites also showed up, leaving streaks as prominent as the comet over the prolonged exposure time. Photographer Daniel Lopez stacked 17 of 20 shots to show how these satellites collectively photobombed Neowise’s moment.
It’s easy to downplay the situation given how larger and stronger equipment isn’t easily affected by streaks of light left behind by these satellites. Given how Neowise won’t be passing this close to Earth for another 6,800 years, however, it’s not hard to see how miffed astrophotographers are. Even beyond this single instance, however, there is growing concern from astronomers how the satellites will affect even bigger and more expensive telescopes.
SpaceX is, fortunately, working to address those criticisms by launching satellites that use new parts that block out light from their most reflective surfaces. That, however, won’t account for the hundreds of Starlink satellites already in low Earth orbit (LEO) that have been at the center of this latest Internet buzz.
Unsurprisingly, there have also been those who have taken SpaceX’s side, trying to weigh the long-term benefits even for professional astronomers and astrophotographers with more sophisticated equipment. Those benefits will, of course, not benefit those left to their own devices, quite literally, on the ground, trying to catch a soon to be rare clear view of the night sky.