Starlink satellites over UK again TONIGHT – best time to see Elon Musk’s internet probes
SWARMS of satellites brighter than any star in the night sky will soar over Britain again this evening.
The dazzling contraptions look a bit like shooting stars and are built by SpaceX, a US rocket firm that wants to beam super-fast Wi-Fi to people from orbit.
UK stargazers have already been treated to two rare showings since Sunday, with a third scheduled for tonight – and we've got all the info on how to spot them.
What is Starlink?
Starlink is a project run by SpaceX, a rocket firm based in California that's headed up by controversial billionaire Elon Musk.
It is in the process of sending up a satellite network – known as a mega constellation – that can beam internet coverage down to any location on Earth.
More than 300 satellites have been launched so far, with the network eventually set to reach 12,000, rising to as many as 42,000 in the future.
SpaceX sends its satellites up in batches of 60 at a time. Each group is launched atop an unmanned Falcon 9 rocket built and operated by SpaceX.
How the probes will affect the night sky is causing concern as they sit in a low orbit, so appear brighter than stars and planets.
When is tonight's Starlink show?
Above Britain, one batch of Starlink satellites will appear in the sky around 8:58pm BST.
They will emerge as "trains" of bright spots that move a little like shooting stars without tails.
Stargazers can expect to see 20 or so of them glide across the sky for around six minutes.
A second showing will occur at roughly 4:04am on Wednesday, lasting for four minutes.
The satellites are so bright that you won't need binoculars or a telescope to see them.
It goes without saying that your best chance of seeing them requires clear skies and as little light around you as possible.
Try not to stare at your phone too much and to turn off outside lights to dampen the effects of light pollution.
Be warned that Starlink satellites can be up to ten minutes "late".
How to track Starlink satellites in real-time
Not sure where to look? Your phone's got you covered.
There are a number of stargazing apps you can use to follow the path of Starlink probes.
On the Apple App Store, we'd recommend Night Sky, which is free and helps you find all kinds of celestial wonders.
For Android fans, Satellite Tracker should do the trick (it's also available on iPhone).
Alternatively, you can visit the Find Starlink website (or the “Find Starlink Satellites” app) and enter your location.
Why are Starlink satellites appearing over the UK and why are they so bright?
According to space experts, the current high rate of sightings is due to the satellites being in low orbit after they first launch.
SpaceX launches Starlink satellites in batches of 60 before they gradually rise to a higher orbit and become less visible.
The most recent batch was fired into space in mid-March, with another batch scheduled for liftoff on April 23.
The satellites have been deliberately designed to be light and compact so they can be launched in large batches.
UK stargazers have been treated to Starlink showings during the past two evenings.
The first took place on Sunday night at around 9:20pm BST, while another occurred on Monday at about 9.55pm.
Brits took to social media to express their delight at the rare events, which are due to continue throughout this week.
"I just watched #Starlink pass over Brighton, UK. Looks stunning," one Twitter user said.
Another gushed: "Wow, what a spectacle! My wife and I went out and saw a dozen satellites and two shooting stars. If I remember just one thing about April 2020 it’ll surely be this."
Reports of sightings were spread across the UK, with users in London, Manchester and Leeds among those taking to social media to report seeing the craft.
Some people compared the dazzling satellites to UFOs.
"These starlink satellites in the uk are terrifying me those m****r f****rs looking like UFOS," one Twitter user wrote.
Another quipped: "I’m seeing the #Starlink satellites but they’re going off in different directions. Not a straight formation. Unless these are UFOs."
Is Starlink 'blocking' the night sky?
The Starlink programme is controversial among astronomers, who have slammed Musk's hare-brained scheme.
They say Starlink gets in the way of observations due to light reflected off the the satellites.
University of Western Ontario meteor researcher Denis Vida stated in a blog post last year: "One has to be concerned how will our skies look like when hearing that there are plans to launch a total of 42,000 satellites.
"This might completely deny us to do any optical meteor observations as soon as 2024."
Never one to take something lying down, Musk has lashed back at his critics, claiming the satellites have no such impact.
Speaking at a conference in Washington DC last month, he said: "I am confident that we will not cause any impact whatsoever in astronomical discoveries. Zero. That’s my prediction.
"We’ll take corrective action if it’s above zero."
SpaceX engineers are also said to be looking into making the satellites a bit less shiny so they won't reflect the sun as much.
Will Starlink 'trap' humanity on Earth?
There are concerns that humanity could be trapped on Earth by too much space junk in Earth's orbit.
That's according to one space scientist, who says Starlink could create an impenetrable wall of rubbish around our planet.
A catastrophic clutter of space debris left behind by the satellites could block rockets from leaving Earth, an effect known as "Kessler syndrome".
"The worst case is: You launch all your satellites, you go bankrupt, and they all stay there," European Space Agency scientist Dr Stijn Lemmens told Scientific American.
"Then you have thousands of new satellites without a plan of getting them out of there. And you would have a Kessler-type of syndrome."
It will take thousands of years for any SpaceX satellites left in our orbit to descend to Earth and burn up in the atmosphere.
The firm says it's already taken steps to avoid cluttering up the region. It's launching the satellites into a lower orbital plane than most space tech to avoid collisions.
In other news, Nasa astronauts will launch into space from US soil next month for the first time in nearly a decade.
An amazing SpaceX video recently revealed how the company will one day fire astronauts to the ISS.
SpaceX apparently wants the US Army to use the 18,000 mile-an-hour spacecraft to transport troops & supplies across the planet in "minutes".
What do you think of Musk's satellite plan? Let us know in the comments!
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