SpaceX Starlink: How and where to spot the satellite trains in the sky this weekend
This week, a train of SpaceX Starlink satellites was launched, prompting many in Florida to report seeing strange lights in the night sky. The Elon Musk company has been launching the Starlink satellites since last year with the aim of providing high-speed internet across the globe. SpaceX has so far launched 422 satellites into orbit and aims to launch up to 12,000 satellites by the end of next year.
Many took to social media with their visuals of the satellite trains, with some calling it amazing, some calling it unbelievable, and some calling it depressing. Concerns have long been raised about the long-term danger of space debris resulting from launching thousands of satellites in orbits above 600 km and a possible impact on astronomy due to the light reflected by the satellites. Musk has since stated that the satellites will be equipped with a sunshade to block reflections from the sun as a potential fix.
Starlink 6 was the seventh and latest satellite launch by SpaceX last Wednesday, April 22. This is a cluster of 60 satellites that were launched on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. These 60 satellites are part of the current network of 420 satellites in orbit around Earth that SpaceX has launched over the last two years.
Starlink will deliver high-speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive or completely unavailable.
Howard Hochhalter, Planetarium Manager at The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature, explained to ABC the phenomenon of being able to view the satellites. He said, "Relative to the observer you’re still in the shadow of the Earth. But, it’s right before sunrise and right before sunset because of the reflected light off of the Earth. This occurs when part of it is already in the light which is angling and reflecting off of the antennas of these satellites."
With the recent spade of Starlink launches, many have even called in to report UFOs, leading to UFO sighting databases issuing statements about the satellites. If you have not spotted a Starlink train yet, there are still many opportunities to do so. With no complex equipment required and as long as a clear sky is ensured, you can still check out when the next train might be visible from your location.
The Find Starlink website (or the Find Starlink Satellites app) will allow you to find the precise times when a Starlink train will be visible -- you only need to enter your location. The application prioritizes bright passes of newly-launched satellites, ensuring you have the best chance to view the train.
Google engineer James Darpinian also has a website that can help you identify when the train can be viewed. The website will track your location and provide the time period for when you can view the train. Moreover, you will also be able to view a simulation of the night sky of when the Starlink passes, relative to the constellations visible in the sky -- perfect for any amateur astronomer. Darpinian's website also tracks other satellites that can be spotted.
The Heavens Above website and app also provide details on how to watch the train. There is a website dedicated to Starlink satellites, where you can see the orbit of the new satellites. Don't forget to update the "location" tag in the upper right of the page to get your specific visibility forecast.
Take note of the brightness, or magnitude, in the chart that Heavens Above gives you. The lower the number, the brighter the object will be. A magnitude of 1 or 2 should be easy to spot, while a 3 or 4 might be washed out if you have a lot of light pollution where you are. The satellites tend to be at their brightest during this period shortly after they first launch because they're at a lower altitude. They tend to get fainter as they climb to their operational heights.
"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," Netherlands-based satellite tracker Marco Langbroek told Space.com. He added, "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)."