This week, Comet NEOWISE came the closest it will to Earth in over 6,000 years. With that in mind, astrophotographer Daniel Lopez set up his equipment so as to capture the perfect image of the comet as it flew near Earth.
The results, sadly, were marred by SpaceX's Starlink satellites, which have been flagged over the months since they were first launched for ruining several astronomical observations.
A botched observation of Comet NEOWISE
In his post, Lo´pez explains how he was saddened to see those trails across the images. He also said the Starlink satellites are so visible because the final image is made up of 17 captures using a 30-second exposure.
SpaceX has so far launched 540 of their Starlink satellites into space, but the company's plan, which has been approved by the Federal Communications Commission, is to eventually have tens of thousands of them in orbit in order to bring global internet coverage to the world.
The astronomical backlash to SpaceX's Starlink
The problem is that, as the Starlink satellites have a much lower orbit than most satellites (roughly 550 kilometers), they are very bright in the sky, leading many astronomers to say they are negatively impacting our ability to observe the cosmos.
17 30-second images of the comet added up by @cielodecanarias, completely photobombed by @elonmusk's #Starlink satellites. It's a few hundreds of them right now,there will be a few thousands in the near future. @SpaceX is committed to coating orienting them better but still.... pic.twitter.com/TYtTf5xwhc— Julien Girard (@djulik) July 22, 2020
“If there are lots and lots of bright moving objects in the sky, it tremendously complicates our job,” Smith College astronomer James Lowenthal told The New York Times last November. “It potentially threatens the science of astronomy itself.”
As Space.com reports, SpaceX has claimed that their satellites are bright to begin with as they continue to gain altitude, but will become dimmer over a period of time. The company has also painted the underside of more recently launched satellites with a non-reflective paint — though this has only been partially successful.
SpaceX will soon also mount its sunglasses-like 'VisorSat,' onto upcoming models, SpaceNews reported in May. None of SpaceX's efforts seem to have completely appeased the astronomical community so far.
Back in March, Elon Musk said SpaceX's Starlink satellites won't impact astronomy. While Musk has undeniably made great strides for space exploration, he has also previously claimed that there would be "close to zero cases" of coronavirus in the U.S. by April, and that we will soon be able to play music directly into a chip in our brains — make of all of that what you will.