When to see Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites lighting up the night sky
Have you seen a line of lights travelling across the sky?
With clear skies, many in Cambridgeshire were stunned by the spectacle last night (April 19), caused by the Starlink broadband satellite ‘megaconstellation’ from Elon Musk’s SpaceX company.
And they are due to be visible from the UK again tonight, travelling from west to east from 9.58pm, and each day until April 24.
This image, capturing trails of light across the sky, was taken by Ely photographer James Billings (visit @JamesBillingsPhoto on Facebook) using a tracking mount.
It is a composite photograph of about 50 images of 10 seconds duration each, and features about 40 Starlink satellites in a row.
Eventually, SpaceX hopes to have as many as 12,000 satellites in orbit, providing a broadband internet service. Currently, there are only 2,218 satellites in total orbiting Earth.
The prospect has caused alarm among astronomers and astrophotographers, who say the bright objects could interfere with observations and imaging.
The first 60 Starlink satellites were launched on May 23, 2019, on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 - a rocket that is launched with the aid of friction stir welding technology invented at TWI on Granta Park.
In September 2019, the European Space Agency had announced that it had to direct its Aeolus satellite to fire a thruster to raise its orbit so that it passed safely over one of the table-sized 227kg (500lb) satellites, called Starlink 44.
There have now been six Starlink launches - the last on March 18 and another 60 satellites are due to be launched on Thursday April 23 - with SpaceX saying it is working with authorities to mitigate the effects of the megaconstellation.
The company expects to launch its broadband internet service by the end of 2020.
While looking out for Starlink tonight, you may also spot the annual Lyrids meteor shower, which is due to peak on Tuesday evening (April 21). It is possible to see up to about 20 meteors (so-called ‘shooting stars’) an hour.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking to entertain the children with some astronomy at a more family-friendly time, the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge is running an online session about the big bang from 3pm on Tuesday.
Find out when to see the Starlink spectacle
Visit https://findstarlink.com/ and you can search by place name or co-ordinates to find out when they will be visible from where you live.
Cambridge co-ordinates are 52.2053 degrees North and 0.1218 East
Here are the times for the next few days. Note that Findstarlink says times can vary by up to 10 minutes, so it’s best to look early.
April 20, 2020
- 4.28am - Starlink-3 for four minutes - look from south-west to east
- 9.58pm - Starlink-5, 6 for six minutes - look from west to east
April 21, 2020
- 3.30am - Starlink-3 for two minutes - look from south-east to east
- 5.03am - Starlink-3 or six minutes - look from west to east
- 8.58pm - Starlink-5, 6 for six minutes - look from south-west to east
- 10.34pm - Starlink-5, 6 for six minutes - look from west to north-east
April 22, 2020
- 4.04am - Starlink-3 for four minutes - look from west to east
- 9.34pm - Starlink-5, 6 for six minutes - look from west to east
April 23, 2020
- 3.06am - Starlink-3 for two minutes - look from east to east
- 4.39 am - Starlink-3 for six minutes - look from west to east
- 10.10pm - Starlink-5, 6 for six minutes - look from west to east
April 24, 2020
- 3.41am - Starlink-3 for four minutes - look from west to east
- 9.10pm - Starlink-5, 6 for six minutes - look from west to east