Summer is the season for stargazing, and fans of the cosmos world wide were eager to catch the event occurring once every 6 766 years – the NEOWISE comet passing our planet at a distance of 64 million miles (103 million km).
Many took their cameras to capture the spectacular “gassy boi” as it hurled past Earth, and plenty of beautiful images were shared on Twitter of the astronomic rarity.
There was one problem though – photographing shooting stars requires a long exposure technique, and many noted that their shots were ruined by Starlink satellites that were recently launched into Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
Julien Girard’s (@djulik) picture speaks for itself:
Elon Musk’s Starlink project has been criticized before as a potential threat to LEO traffic as well as to astronomy in general, as the satellites that are supposed to provide Internet access via 5G technology to remote parts of the planet may ruin research conducted via telescopes. The problem, astronomers said, was that the coating used by the satellites was too reflective, effectively creating an unprecedented scope of light pollution that would add too much noise to pictures taken by their sensitive devices.
Others have also spotted traces of Starlink satellites on their NEOWISE photos, some in cases that would be invisible to the human eye, but not for the cameras:
Currently there are 422 of these satellites in orbit, but the aim of the project is to launch over 42,000 of them. Apart from the light pollution effects, scientists warn that this would increase the risk of collisions and put way too much debris in LOE, something that could potentially trigger the so called “Kessler Syndrome” – a hypothetical situation in which there’s so much colliding junk in space around the planet, that all further orbital activities become impossible for several decades.