People have been looking at the stars for centuries, and if you happened to look at the night sky in eastern Idaho in the past 30 days, you might have noticed a peculiar sight.
A line of lights moved slowly and evenly across the sky.
Were they UFOs? Meteors? Stars? Another stellar phenomenon?
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 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. on one side,” Shropshire said.
Starlink connects people around the world with high-speed Internet access. In fact, it can connect people in remote areas even during natural disasters and wars.
Starlink satellites were used most recently during the Russian-Ukrainian war, and may have helped change the outcome by ensuring Ukrainians didn’t lose essential communications.
The satellites were launched by Elon Musk. Starlink is operated by Musk’s Space X company, which is the same company that launched rockets into space.
Space X hasn’t always had smooth navigation. The New York Times recently reported that an Australian farmer 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. Satellites burned up in the atmosphere.
Shropshire says debris from satellites falling to Earth is rare.
“This is something that all the 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,” said he declared.
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,” said Anna Hoskins, a lecturer in the ISU Department of Physics.