Traces of bright lights hit the Sydney skies over the weekend, but despite their UFO-like appearance, astronomers say something closer to Earth was responsible: Elon Musk’s Starlink company.
Dozens of satellites from the SpaceX subsidiary were launched Saturday (Sydney time) from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida as they made their way southeast into low Earth orbit.
The satellites were the latest in a series of more than 2,000 objects already launched, part of Starlink’s effort to provide fast broadband access to people in “areas where connectivity has been unreliable or completely unavailable,” the website says.
The 53 satellites launched from the US caught the attention of Sydneysiders on Saturday night because of the relatively new way they were launched, said Dr Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at the Australian National University.
Each dot is an individual satellite launched meters apart, before slowly spreading out hundreds of meters, he said.
“They always look weird… because they’re flying in these lines or constellations,” he said. “We’re talking about a pretty tight formation in a very tight orbit, and this is because they want this globally” [broadband] coverage. They have to fly the satellites in flight paths so that the exact same points are covered every time.”
The sheer number of satellites overflying combined with the timing of Starlink’s launch meant Sydney had a short show in the air, Tucker said. Satellites are mainly 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 angle of the sun can still reflect off the satellites and then back to Earth,” he said.
“This one [satellites] always stand out because you see them in a row.”