Photographer's Comet NEOWISE Photos Sabotaged by SpaceX Satellites

One photographer has had his attempts at capturing the Comet NEOWISE sabotaged, after his view was interrupted by SpaceX’s Starlink satellites, whose lights cut into his shots.

Photographer Daniel López had been hoping to take a telephoto timelapse of the Comet earlier this week, and although able to capture some great images, they were intruded upon by the satellites. Armed with a 200mm lens and the Canon Ra astrophotography mirrorless camera, his goal was to stack a number of 30-second exposures to create one final photo. López says around 20 of his long-exposures were sabotaged by the satellite streaking across the comet trails. Of these, 17 were used to create the image you see here.

The field isn’t too big — 200mm with a full frame — but it happened to be passing right over the comet.

Incidentally, SpaceX has previously announced plans to reduce quite how bright their satellites are, doing so by angling solar panels and installing sunshades.

López had previously garnered attention for an image he shot of the moon, as it appeared behind people 10 miles away. See more of his work on his websiteFacebook, and Twitter.

All images Daniel López and used with permission.

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Mini Buns's picture

Nothing like being photo bombed by Elon Musk! Things will only get more cluttered over time as I think he has something like 25,000 more satellites to add to the "Elon-o-sphere"

David Pavlich's picture

The astronomy community is NOT a fan of Mr. Musk.

Joe Svelnys's picture

Yup, only going to get worst and worst as time goes on. Just looking on Stellarium there are no less then 5 to 8 satellites at any given time (at 200mm). I can't imagine adding another 30k...

Jon The Baptist's picture

Seeing this, and how dense these are, I bet there's going to be a point here pretty soon where we're not even going to be able to launch into space anymore because there's so much crap up there..

What's going to happen when the guidance system on one of those goes bunk and drifts off? Hits another piece of debris, and now there's untraceable shrapnel traveling at Mach 20 around the globe.

Launching into space would be like the Resident Evil Laser Scene:

Joe Svelnys's picture

Or the beginning of Wall-E where the Humans are first leaving Earth and punch their orbital-shell of space trash.

Chiel Broerse's picture

Can someone explain to me how the process of stacking photo's should work? For example: if you stack 30 photo's, how is the resulting pixel calculated? Is it the mean of the 30 underlying pixels? Is it the max?. I would imagine that the "streaks" would only be visible in one pixel in one photo. If you use mean, this one hot pixel would disappear. This is one of the reasons why you stack: to remove roque pixels (noise). So I don't really understand how the streaks end up in a stacked photo. But maybe I don't understand the process very well, please explain.

William Griswold's picture

He was making a point. Most astrophotography dedicated stacking software will pretty well correct for this by taking an average (or median value) value of those pixels of all the frames (aligned by using stars) and then ignore any outliers. The threshold level of rejected pixels is adjustable to set how much the pixel has to deviate from the average before being rejected. So, particularly with these bright streaks, they are easily detected and removed. The value to fill the rejected pixel will be an average of surrounding pixels.
In this case he intentionally left them in....or in fact processed to preserve the bright streaks which can also be done.
But, it does get pretty busy up there and I still find it annoying when doing AP.

Steven de Vet's picture

There is no denying that the starlink satellites are already an issue for astrophotography, and will only get worse and worse.. we're up to about 400 -500 now? and the plan is for thousands of the darn things. Can't say I'm too happy about that.

However, I feel this image is certainly stacked/enhanced to make the starlink look worse than it really is at this time... so, I'm a bit torn on this one.

You can see it in the time-lapse of the image, they're there.. they're annoying.. it's an issue for astrophotography.. and will definitely get worse (and I hope they fix it somehow..) But right now, it is only 1 real streak of them moving in the image. They don't move in a 30 wide grid like pattern. **With slight changes in the pattern depending on wether or not you're using a star tracking mount and/or focal length.

Either way I understand the issues of the satellites, but compositing 1 trail into 17.... meh... Even with the photographer being open about using 17 images, I can't help but look at this image and go "yes.. but no..but yes.. well no?? well maybe?" it's more a composite that a realistic image in my mind.. But the media is obviously more than happy to run with it to yell at Elon.

Still, I can't say I'm not happy that images like this are getting some attention now hopefully forcing some possible fixes, before we have thousands of the things in orbit to ruin the night sky forever!

Mini Buns's picture

great points

David Pavlich's picture

When I was involved in astroimaging, it was not uncommon for me to take 25 exposures of 6-10 minutes long, depending on the object. For the shooter that's taking pictures of the Milky Way or the Moon, the satellite intrusion will be small.

But, for those that do deep space shooting, especially if they are shooting in Hubble Pallet with Ha, O III, and Si II filters, a session can be stretched over many hours to get the needed data for a nice shot. The astrophotography community has a lot to think about over the next several years.

Rev Aaron's picture

Honestly, this seems to have been made intentionally to make a point. I've seen a lot of headlines talking about how the shot was "ruined" by the Starlink satellites, as if this was a once in a lifetime chance with a small window of opportunity. Folks who do this type of photography do research, find out what will be in the sky, and plan. Certainly the photographer here knew what they were doing.

That said, I don't disagree with people who say that the Starlink satellites are complicating astronomy and photography.

Steven de Vet's picture

Yea exactly. it was a 3 week long visible event..even the highlight was 3-4 days long, for hours at night. And it's all ruined by a 2 minute window that could have been easily avoided or redone.

Chiel Broerse's picture

I missed it at first, but it's in the text: "López says around 20 of his long-exposures were sabotaged by the satellite streaking across the comet trails. Of these, 17 were used to create the image you see here." This picture was indeed made intentionally to make the point. Which makes me think that with proper stacking the trails are much less of a problem.

Chiel Broerse's picture

Thanks for the explanation, I thought as much. But the problem is that, looking at the posters here, most people will miss this information and are actually wrong about the effects of the satellites on astro-photography. I get that it is annoying, but there are ways to mitigate the problem.

Steven de Vet's picture

there are currently easy ways to mitigate it. The starlink encounter is somewhat rare now.. a little photoshopping here or there.. and astrophotography stacking software is quite good at removing small trails.

But, keeping in mind that starlink is planning thousands of these satellites, in a massive network... it will ruin the night sky and astrophotography. there will simply be too many to mitigate at that point.

Chiel Broerse's picture

I understand the concern, although I think that for the type of astrophotography we are talking about, the problems seem minimal. They always involve stacking and if I understand correctly with stacking pixels in a singel image in the stack will be discarded, leaving the subject, which is displayed in each photo, intact. This is exactly what happens when you take multiple pictures of a plaza, or a road with cars, and stack them using mean, You end up with an empty plaza or empty road. I've done that a couple of times and with enough pictures you can make every person, every car in your images dissappear.

akira h's picture

Think positive. China will join the race soon. may be also Russia? soon we can photograph much more star trails. Instagram will be much more vivid with bright star trail. Yey!

Jim L's picture

I understand your point, but you should look up the definition of sabotage and perhaps rephrase your headline.

Matthias Kirk's picture

So, Daniel Lopez faced the dilemma of either spending two extra minutes to remove the streaks from the stack, or create a viral image that featured them. Poor guy must be devastated...

Steven de Vet's picture

I know.. to think he would have missed all this "ruining: if he just waited 2 minutes for them to pass in this 3 week long event.. or not composite 30 streaks into one image