BLACKFOOT – People have been watching the stars for centuries, and if you’ve looked up at the night sky in the last month, you might have noticed a peculiar sight.
A line of lights moved slowly and evenly across the sky. Many of you have wondered if it was a shooting star, a UFO or some other stellar phenomenon?
Dr. Steven Shropshire, professor of physics at Idaho State University, told EastIdahoNews.com that the lights are satellites. But not just any satellite: Starlink satellites.
What makes them particularly noticeable to us is “actually a bit of a marketing ploy”.
The James Webb, Hubble and the International Space Station are generally the largest and most visible satellites in space. Starlink satellites are much smaller than those sent by NASA.
“They’re actually designed to be reflective to get your attention. That’s something they do deliberately with the Starlinks. They’re not super big, but they look big because of the reflective finish. one side,” says Shropshire.
Starlink connects people around the world with high-speed Internet access. In fact, they can connect people in remote areas even during natural disasters and wars.
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Starlink satellites were recently used during the war between Russia and Ukraine, and may have helped change the outcome by ensuring that Ukrainians did not lose essential communications.
The satellites were launched by Elon Musk, who is the richest person in the world, according to Forbes. Starlink is operated by Musk’s Space X company, which is the same company that launched rockets into space. The company’s website touts Starlink as high throughput, low latency, and perfect for rural communities.
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Space X hasn’t always had smooth navigation. The New York Times recently reported that an Australian farmer recently found a large piece of space junk from a Space X spacecraft called “Dragon”. During Starlink’s launch in February, 40 of Space X’s 49 satellites fell out of orbit, according to the Associated Press. The satellites burned up in the atmosphere, so no one was hurt.
Shropshire says debris from satellites falling to Earth is rare.
“This is something that all space agencies in the United States, Europe and Russia are very careful about. The debris fields are well plotted and most launches do not produce large debris fields,” says -he.
As Starlink satellites improve global connectivity, many astronomers fear they will make studying the stars more difficult. Starlink says they are “leading the industry in innovations to reduce satellite brightness, minimize impact on astronomy, and protect the natural night sky for all to enjoy.”
“They can show up as streaks which can complicate astrophotography and various things. Space X…now trying to make them less reflective so they’re not as bright, but everything in space can get in the way,” notes Dr. Anna Hoskins, senior lecturer in the ISU Department of Physics.
Starlink satellites were most visible the last week of July when they were last launched. From then on, they spread across the sky and rotated to become less visible.
According to Shropshire, now is one of the best times to view satellites from the ground.
“There are a lot of very interesting things you can see in space if you just look up,” he says.
If you missed your chance to see them this time around, the Starlink website has a tracker. There is also a tracker for Starlink and NASA satellites on the NASA website.