Trails of bright lights hit the skies over Sydney over the weekend, but despite its UFO-like appearance, astronomers say something a little closer to Earth was responsible: Elon Musk’s Starlink company.
Dozens of the SpaceX subsidiary’s satellites were launched Saturday (Sydney time) from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida as they headed southeast into low Earth orbit.
The satellites were the latest in a series of more than 2,000 objects already launched, which are part of Starlink’s attempt to provide fast broadband access to people in “areas where connectivity was unreliable or completely unavailable”, says its website. .
The 53 satellites launched from the US caught the attention of Sydneysiders Saturday night because of the relatively new way in which they were launched, said Dr. Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at the Australian National University.
Each point is an individual satellite launched meters away, before slowly spreading out over hundreds of meters, he said.
“They always look weird… because they fly in these lines, or constellation,” he said. “We’re talking about a very close formation in a very narrow orbit, and that’s because they want this [broadband] roof. They need to have the satellites flying on flight paths so that the same points are covered every time.”
The sheer number of satellites flying in the sky combined with the timing of Starlink’s launch meant that Sydney had a brief show in the sky, Tucker said. Satellites are only visible from Earth when the sun reflects on them.
“You won’t see a satellite until about two hours after sunset or before sunrise. And that’s because the sun’s angle can still reflect off the satellites and then come back to Earth,” he said.