Satellites over the Horsehead


I guess most of you have heard about how Elon Musk’s SpaceX company has launched a second “train” of satellites, augmenting the ones sent up last month. The photos and videos look pretty freaky. You’ve probably also heard astronomers and astrophotographers moaning about it.

Well, just how much of a problem is it?

A quick answer is in my photo. I was up at the dark sky site a short while back, photographing the Horsehead nebula.

Just as an aside, the Horsehead is my all-time favourite object, just pushing out the Fighting Dragons. I know it’s a lot of people’s favourite too – but it’s undeniably super cool. But I digress…

I was taking five-minute sub-exposures using my three various narrowband filters. All up, I got about 50 of these for stacking, which I thought was a pretty good haul for a Summer night. But as you can see, I lost four of my subs to satellite photobombing. I’ve stacked the four frames I lost into this photo. I don't even think these are SpaceX satellites.

You might think that losing 10 per cent of my night’s work isn’t too much of a worry – after all, you always lose some frames to poor tracking, haze, or other problems. But what is going to happen when Elon Musk and his competitors launch the whole constellation? They’re planning literally tens of thousands of satellites! Sure, they'll disperse, and around midnight they won't be visible, but the more, the messier.

I’m thinking that any astrophoto taken in the next few years is going to look like this.

What’s worse, having that many satellites up there is a bit of a ticking time bomb. Have you heard of a Cascading Kessler Syndrome? A few unexpected collisions and the whole sky turns into a Spinning Vortex of Death (too much clickbait?) preventing any successful launches through the Minefield of Space Junk (again - over the top?).

Sure, I could get into Photoshop and erase the satellite trail – but Photoshop? Sir, this is science – we do not DRAW!