A star-studded night sky over Vetroz, Switzerland, was interrupted by an eerie string of lights last weekend — but one skywatcher was outside waiting for the lights to appear.
“This is it,” the man said while filming what appeared to be a row of stars gliding across the sky.
To the untrained eye, the lights could spark rumors of UFOs, but not to folks who were anticipating them. In fact, the parade of lights appeared right on schedule last Saturday.
|A train of SpaceX Starlink satellites flies over the Swiss Alps on February 26. Image by Newsflare|
The lights were not from a UFO but dozens of new SpaceX Starlink satellites that were launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in Southern California a week ago.
The formations are known as satellite trains, as the objects follow each other in quick succession. In cases like the one in Switzerland, the train can be tightly packed, but in other cases they can be spread farther apart.
The Starlink satellites are not emitting light, but rather are reflecting light from the sun. This is most pronounced in the hours just after nightfall or just before daybreak.
SpaceX has launched over 2,000 Starlink satellites over the past few years and plans to launch thousands more. The most recent launch occurred on Thursday. The private space company made news last month after 40 of the satellites were knocked out by a solar storm.
Thousands of satellites are required for SpaceX to achieve its goal of providing high-speed Internet access around the world. It could be a game-changer for remote areas where Internet access is extremely limited or unavailable.
However, the fleet of Internet-providing satellites does not come without a catch.
Thousands of satellites constantly orbiting the Earth can interfere with astronomers taking observations of the night sky, as well as contribute to the growing issue of satellites and debris in low-Earth orbit.
SpaceX has worked to make the satellites less reflective, but when the conditions are right like they were over Switzerland, the satellites can easily be seen with the naked eye.
“Wasn’t sure whether that one would be visible but it is,” the man said about the train of satellites while recording the video.
The satellites tend to appear the brightest in the sky in the days immediately following launch before becoming “invisible to the naked eye within a week of launch,” according to SpaceX.
SpaceX is planning at least two more Starlink launches in March and more will follow throughout 2022.
For a chance to see a train of Starlink satellites like the video from Switzerland, observers will need cloud-free weather to keep an eye on the sky during the nights following launch.