Over the past few weeks, people around the globe have been housebound due to social distancing and COVID-19 prevention. One of the positive effects of this is the reduction of light pollution in the night sky. Have you looked up lately? For those of us who live within city limits, this is the perfect time to see a better view of the stars, get to know which planets are visible, and map the constellations.
It’s also a great chance to see something you may not even know existed. Stare at the night sky long enough, and you may be one of the lucky few who have witnessed a train of lights carving a path across the night sky.
I remember the first time I saw it. It was just after five in the morning in late February; I was getting ready to drive my son to his coffee shop job. Ever since I took astronomy in college, my face has always turned toward the night sky, hoping to see a few satellites, a familiar constellation, or even a meteor or two. It was no different on this particular morning, and my eyes immediately found a satellite moving along the horizon. I pointed it out to my son, and at the same time, noticed another one moving just behind it.
“Whoa, that’s so cool, two moving on the same path,” I said, just as I noticed a third one, and then a fourth…and then a fifth.
This is about the point I felt a cold feeling of equal parts excitement and fear fill my chest. What was I seeing? I’m not one to believe in things like alien visitors, but this one had me worried I was one of the first to see the space army that was going to take over the world. I was sure there was a logical explanation to this, but it was hard to think logically as more and more satellites continued on the same path, as much as twenty by this point.
Actually, there were sixty, I discovered. I also learned there really was a logical explanation. I was seeing Starlink, one of the satellite trains sent into space by SpaceX.
What is Starlink?
This is SpaceX’s answer to provide low-cost internet to remote locations, as well as increasing internet speed around the world by creating “world’s most advanced broadband internet system.” At this point, there are about 360 Starlink satellites in orbit (60 satellites in each train). By the time this is done, there will be 12,000.
There is, of course, concern about the amount of light pollution these satellite trains will cause as astronomers record portions of the night sky. Imagine how a photo of deep space will look with a line of satellites running through the image.
That aside, it’s still a really cool sight to see from Earth, and one I’ve become obsessed with since this first sighting. Since then, I’ve made it a point to track the location of the different satellite trains. Currently, the satellites from Starlink-4 (launched February 17) and Starlinks-5,6 (launched March 18) are the most visible.
How to Track Starlink
There are multiple satellite trackers out there that will show the times Starlink trains are visible, but the best one I’ve found is a free app called Starlink by Kalyan Namburi, which tracks Starlink satellites based on your exact location. Because of this app, I’ve been able to see Starlink multiple times. And now that more and more people are looking up to the sky as we wait out this virus, wondering what those strange lines of lights are, I have the answer.
And now you do, too.
Have you seen Starlink yet? Tell me in the comments!