A procession of lights crossed the skies of Spain on Thursday night, with sightings announced on social networks from the center of the peninsula to Balearic Islandsgoing by Catalonia, the Valencian Community and the Region of Murcia. Some stunned users wondered what these “UFOs” were in the sky. It was a new caravan of Starlink satellites, a division of SpaceX, the American company of tycoon Elon Musk that offers high-speed internet from space. These strings of lights are visible shortly after launch and then disperse upon reaching its operating orbit, about 550 kilometers above the ground. The company launched 47 satellites this Thursday at noon local time from the Vanderberg Base in California (United States).
The rows of lights have been common in the sky since Starlink began to deploy its constellation of satellites, in 2019, but a part of the population is still unaware, as shown expressions of surprise on social networks. The company has already put more than 4,600 satellites into orbit in 90 launches, according to the tally of researcher Jonathan C. McDowell of the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institution.
I have just recorded the Starlink train pass launched this morning over the skies of Daya Vieja (Alicante) and that we have been able to see from different points of the peninsula just ten minutes ago.
For those who haven’t been able to see it, here it is 🙂 pic.twitter.com/GGn47Byjdm
— A geologist in trouble (@geologoenapuros) June 22, 2023
Several web pages inform about the times of passage of the caravans of lights. The specialized portal Findstarlink calculates that the row of 47 satellites will be seen again over the Iberian Peninsula this Friday, Saturday and Sunday after 10:00 p.m., from west to east. SpaceX plans to surpass 12,000 satellites launched by 2026. Starlink already offers high-speed internet even in remote regions of Antarctica.
The constellation of new artificial lights is controversial. His trail dirty almost 6% of the images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2021, according to an analysis published three months ago by an international team of scientists, including Pablo García Martín, from the Autonomous University of Madrid. The authors stressed that fewer than 1,600 Starlink satellites and 320 from its British competitor OneWeb were in orbit at the time. The researchers warned that the total number, including those from other companies and other countries, will be around 80,000 in the 2030s.
The Swiss astronomer Didier Queloz – winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics after discovering in 1995 the first planet outside the Solar System orbiting a star similar to the Sun – has repeatedly questioned the businessman Elon Musk. “Please, he stops polluting the sky with Starlink and stopping us from studying the universe.” he snapped at Twitter in November 2019.
Each Starlink satellite weighs about 260 kilograms and has an autonomous collision avoidance system. The company introduced the so-called VisorSat in 2020, which includes a drop-down sunshade to reduce the glare of the satellite. A team led by the Japanese astronomer Takashi Horiuchi, from the University of Tokyo, demonstrated three months ago that the reduction in luminosity achieved with VisorSat is insufficient and demanded more measures from Elon Musk’s company.
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