Elon Musk, a growing constellation of Internet satellites, has been sending strong light streaks across the night sky around the world. It was not even the largest comet to have passed the Earth in 25 years.
A photo showing Comet Noyce behind those lines of light shows how easily satellites can observe distant objects in space.
The satellite project, called Starlink, is Musk’s plan to blanket the Earth with high-speed satellite Internet. The effort has attracted criticism from professional and amateur astronomers, however, as bright satellites can marry into the sky and disrupt telescopic observations.
The same happened to astrotographer Daniel Lopez on July 21, when he was shooting Comet Nevez before flying out of the scene for 6,800 years. He shared the resulting image on the Facebook page of his photography company El Cielo de Canaria, saying that it is a shame to see satellites such a spectacle.
Lopez’s photograph is a combination of 17 images taken in 30-second intervals. Each image was a long exposure, meaning it captured the comet in several seconds.
Astronomer Julian Girard shared this photo Twitter, Saying that the satellites have “completely photobombed” the comet.
“The other night two of my photos were also bombarded by a Starlink,” Girard said.
Lopez also shared a time-lapse video behind the photo. He said that the traces of the satellites were visible in his 20 images.
Because it is a composite time lapse photo, the image does not show what you will see with the naked eye. But this explains why many astronomers worry about the danger that satellite constellations such as Starlink point toward ground-based astronomy.
Many satellites could have played with astronomy on Earth
Long-exposure images are an important part of studying distant objects in the night sky. Telescopes on Earth watch celestial targets for hours, gradually creating a detailed image that provides rich data to astronomers.
But a poorly timed Starlink satellite can ruin that kind of research by creating a long streak across the image and blocking objects intended for astronomers to study.
In June, Business Insider quoted astronomer Jonathan McDowell that in a few seconds, the entire 10- or 15-minute exposure is wasted.
SpaceX is sharing StarLink’s orbital-path data with astronomers so that they can plan their telescope observations around the satellites’ movements. Briefly shutting down the camera because long-risk image can be saved by passing over the satellite.
But Musk’s ambitions may make it nearly impossible to avoid fast-growing satellites. SpaceX has sought permission from the government to make a total of 42,000 satellites “megaconstellation” around the Earth.
“If they are coming all the time, when they are coming, it is not helpful to know,” McDowell said. Even now, he said, sometimes astronomers cannot escape photobombers.
SpaceX is not the only company to build a huge fleet of satellites. Companies like OneWeb and Amazon have similar ambitions.
Lauz told Gizmodo, “The sky will not be what it has been for millions of years. Thousands of dots will appear in the night sky and disappear.” “I personally think that if no action is taken, it will be the end of astronomy as we know it from the surface of the Earth.”
Professional astronomers have given similar strict warnings.
“The night sky is for everyone. It has been investigated and used for millennia,” Girard said. “We must cherish it and protect it like our earth.”
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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