KEY POINTS

  • Comet NEOWISE is moving away from Earth
  • The photo of the comet was ruined by Starlink Satellites
  • Astronomers are worried about the effects of the satellites on sky gazing

A photo of the passing comet NEOWISE was ruined by the sudden appearance of the Starlink satellites deployed by SpaceX. The incident is the latest proof of the satellite constellation’s damaging effects on astronomy.

Comet NEOWISE recently caught the attention of the public after it reached its closest distance to Earth. Although the comet is now moving farther away from the planet, it can still be spotted using powerful telescopes and binoculars.

Daniel Lopez is one of the astrophotographers trying to take images of comet NEOWISE before it disappears and exits the Solar System. To document the comet, Lopez set up his camera to take pictures of it.

His photo, which he shared on Facebook, is a composite of 17 images that were taken in 30 seconds. Unfortunately, while he was taking the images, the Starlink satellites in low-Earth orbit passed in front of comet NEOWISE.

The resulting image shows the bright comet blocked by the streaks of light created by SpaceX’s satellites.

According to Lopez, his photo clearly shows why many astronomers, astrophysicists and space enthusiasts are concerned about the presence of SpaceX’s satellite constellation. Earlier in May, SpaceX launched the first batch of Starlink satellites into low-Earth orbit.

As noted by the company, the satellites were designed to deliver high-speed Internet to different parts of the globe from space. However, in order for the company to accomplish this goal, it needs to deploy thousands of satellites.

Initially, SpaceX planned to launch 12,000 satellites for its Starlink project. However, official documents revealed that the company would deploy 30,000 additional satellites, bringing the total to 42,000.

Lopez warned that once SpaceX launches all of its satellites, the view of space and the sky from Earth will permanently change.

“Astronomers, astrophysicists, and astrophotographers are concerned about the great deployment of small satellites orbiting the Earth,” he told Earther. “Now they want to launch some 40,000 [satellites] later, other companies will want to launch their own into orbit, and the sky will not be what it has been for millions of years. Thousands of dots will appear and disappear in the night sky.”

Comet NEOWISE An unprocessed image from the WISPR instrument on board NASA’s Parker Solar Probe shows comet NEOWISE on July 5, 2020, shortly after its closest approach to the Sun. The Sun is out of frame to the left. The faint grid pattern near the center of the image is an artifact of the way the image is created. The small black structure near the lower left of the image is caused by a grain of dust resting on the imager’s lens. Photo: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Lab/Parker Solar Probe/Brendan Gallagher