Seen a bright chain of UFOs? It's not aliens—Easy-to-spot Starlink satellites continue to crowd the sky.
Low-Earth orbit keeps getting busier. Last month, SpaceX sent up its seventh group of 60 router-satellites to join the Starlink constellation. There are over 400 Starlink satellites in orbit now, with a goal to have 1,000 in orbit by the end of the year. SpaceX has permission from the FCC to launch 12,000 in total, all with the purpose of providing high-speed broadband internet to places that couldn't get it before.
Starlink orbits much lower than most satellites, and have a propulsion system that brings them back down to Earth after a few months.
They're also unexpectedly shiny. Especially right after launch, the little metal birds are easily spotted with the naked eye in their low orbit. They fly through the night sky in little trains, one after the other, spaced about the same distance apart. UFO-reporting websites have been flooded with the new sightings
Apprehension Amongst Astronomers
While satellite-spotting has turned into a bit of a hobby in the past few months, many astronomers are worried now and for the future. Astronomer Jonathan McDowell from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics tweeted:
They are still visible. It's an overstatement to say they are disrupting astro; they are bright enough that if there were thousands of them they would disrupt astro.— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) November 11, 2019
Still others comment:
@IDADarkSky: This evening I could observe #Starlink satellites. A composite of 188s exposure time of the Cassiopeia constellation showing the negativ #lightpollution effect they will have... pic.twitter.com/tWOmcrToMi— Andreas Hänel (@andhaenel) December 30, 2019
SpaceX plans to launch the next Starlink cluster with sunshades that will dim their brightness in the night sky. If those shades work, now might be the best time for space enthusiasts to catch a glimpse of the orderly little shooting stars beaming internet down to earth.
How to Spot Starlink
There are tons of resources for tracking stargazing phenomena. A great place to follow Starlink is on the Heavens-Above website. They've got a specific Starlink tracker that gives you a forecast when you put in your location. From my spot in Virginia, it looks like I can see some Starlink activity next month. But in Colorado, there's visible activity this week.
Satellite tracker Marco Langbroek gave this advice to space.com:
"For prospective observers, I would advise to see whether Calsky of Heavens-Above issue predictions for your location, and allow for several minutes uncertainty in the pass time. I expect them to be bright now they are still very low, but having binoculars handy would be a good idea. Make sure your eyes are dark adapted (i.e. spent some 125 minutes in the dark at least, avoiding lamplight)."
Do you have any interest in spotting the satellite march? Have you seen them already? Comment below!