Elon Musk and SpaceX hope to launch more than 1,000 of the company’s smallsatellites this year, including the . The growing constellation has set off a over how surprisingly reflective and visible the metal birds are. SpaceX is working to resolve the issue, but in the meantime we’re living through an unprecedented moment for satellite spotting.
Both astronomers and SpaceX officials have been caught off guard by the high albedo, or reflectivity, of the satellites. Thousands of sightings around the world of “trains” of bright lights moving in a straight line across the night sky, especially near dawn or dusk, have been reported. A number of them have been mistaken for UFOs,.
Once you know what to look for, spotting Starlink trains is pretty cool and a growing pastime among certain, more nerdy parts of society. You know, the type of person who might also be into watching the International Space Station pass overhead or spending lots of chilly evenings outside just waiting for a meteor shower to get going — the type of person who might read an article like this one.
Fortunately for those sorts of people, resources to help locate Starlink in the sky are on the rise.
The Heavens Above website and app are a great place to start. The platform lets you input your current location. You can then get a list of exactly when recently launched Starlink satellites might be visible from where you are, including the direction and elevation to look in the sky. For example, multiple opportunities may be coming up to spot satellites from the most recent batch, launched Jan. 6 from my location in New Mexico.
That’s not including the, which are currently set to blast off aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida on Wednesday morning (but this launch has been delayed several times already). The satellites tend to be at their brightest after they first launch, because they’re at a lower altitude. They tend to get fainter as they then spend the following days climbing to their operational heights.
If SpaceX does find a way to make its satellites less reflective, it’s possible this could be a rare and brief moment in history where strange trains of lights were a popular sky-watching attraction. But with up to 40,000 of the satellites set to launch in coming years, the show might just be getting started.
If you do manage to catch the satellites, take a video if you can and share it with me on Twitter @EricCMack. Happy spotting.