Astrophotographer Unwittingly Photographs a SpaceX Rocket Whizzing By

Joshua Defibaugh Space X Photo Mount Mansfield

When photographer Josh Defibaugh climbed to the top of Vermont's Mount Mansfield, he was hoping for a successful night of photography. But he never could have imagined the incredible image he was about to take. Defibaugh was looking to capture the Milky Way, but his plans were upended by the presence of a SpaceX rocket.

At the time, Defibaugh was unaware that a rocket by the Elon Musk-run company had recently been launched. But, after carefully composing his shot, he suddenly saw a bright light shoot across his viewfinder.

“As the galaxy was on my mind, I saw this bright glow in the sky and thought, very briefly, that it was aliens,” Defibaugh tells My Modern Met. “And I was really excited to photograph it. But that thought wore off pretty quickly as I realized it was just another SpaceX rocket.”

Though he hadn't originally planned on sharing the photo, once he did, the image took on a life of its own. Personally, Defibaugh has mixed feelings about the photo.

“I hope people realize that the degradation of the night sky with satellites and light pollution is an ongoing problem. The Earth is getting anywhere from 2-6% brighter each year and Elon Musk has stated he plans to launch hundreds, if not thousands, of SpaceX rockets in the coming years. The effects of so many satellites in the night sky may not be apparent now, but they will be soon, not just for astrophotographers but for any looking up to the sky.”

SpaceX has steadily increased its number of launches each year. At the time of writing, there have been 54 launches in 2022, with 10 more scheduled before the end of the year. And if SpaceX hits its goal in 2023, it will hit 100 launches in a calendar year. In the past, the company has experimented with a special coating to darken its satellites, but with so many bodies in the sky, experts agree that light pollution will increase.

So while Defibaugh's image may look cool, it's also a reminder that these rockets can and will transform the night sky.

If you want to see more of Defibaugh's astrophotography, sans rocket, as well as his other creative projects you can follow his work on Instagram.

Josh Defibaugh: Website | Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Josh Defibaugh.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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