SpaceX has so many Starlink satellites they're increasingly photobombing astronomers' images, a study says

SpaceX has so many Starlink satellites they're increasingly photobombing astronomers' images, a study says
SpaceX launched 49 Starlink satellites Thursday.Paul Hennessy/Getty Images
  • SpaceX's satellites are increasingly photobombing astronomical images, a study has found.
  • It identified a 35-fold increase in the twilight images corrupted by streaks caused by satellites.

There has been a huge increase in the number of astronomers' images corrupted by streaks of reflected sunlight caused by SpaceX's satellites, a new study has found.

According to the study, which was published by the Astrophysical Journal Letters, SpaceX launched 150 Starlink satellites in the last month, with more than 1,900 satellites now launched.

SpaceX has received approval from the US Federal Communications Commission to operate 12,000 satellites.

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The study found a 35-fold increase in Zwicky Transient Facility [ZTF] images taken during twilight that were corrupted by streaks – from less than 0.5% in late 2019 to 18% in August, 2021.

"We find that the number of affected images is increasing with time as SpaceX deploys more satellites," the researchers wrote.


"We estimate that once the size of the Starlink constellation reaches 10,000, essentially all ZTF images taken during twilight may be affected."

A spokesperson for NASA told The Wall Street Journal that satellites "have the potential to interfere with ground-based observations by increasing the complexity of differentiating artificial satellites from natural objects like asteroids and comets."

SpaceX and NASA did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

Eric Bellm, a University of Washington astronomer, told the WSJ that the streaks shouldn't comprise the image's research purposes, but they could complicate efforts to detect potentially hazardous asteroids.

The study's researchers argue the chances of streaks that could hinder spotting of dangerous asteroids remain small. However, "the number of images affected by satellite trails is alarmingly growing as more and more Starlink satellites are being deployed in orbit," they wrote.


Insider's Kate Duffy reported that SpaceX sent 49 of its Starlink satellites into orbit Thursday with the help of a Falcon 9 rocket.