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.