Watch a String of Lights Cross the Sky

screenshot from Starlink video, some time before autumn 2023, on ViralVideoLab

9 June 2024

On a woodcock walk at Hillman State Park on the night of 13 April, we paused to look at a beaver pond when someone pointed to a strange row of lights moving silently across the sky. There were more than 20 of them, obviously man-made and kind of creepy. None of us knew what they were. The next morning I figured out they were Starlink satellites.

This week Pittsburghers will have five opportunities to see this eerie phenomenon. Here’s what they look like, even without binoculars.

Starlink Satellites train seen in the sky Elon Musk SpaceX 2024 (embedded from ViralVideoLab on YouTube)

Note: This group contains about 60 satellites. Nowadays SpaceX launches about 20 per batch.

A Starlink satellite string can be seen only in the few days following a Starlink Falcon rocket launch. You must be in the right location (under the flight path), with a clear sky and within two hours of sunset or sunrise.

This 5-minute video “explainer” by meteorologist Brad Panovich in Charlotte, NC, recorded in September 2023, explains the network of Starlink satellites, how the string is deployed and why you only see them for a couple of days if you’re lucky.

video embedded from Meteorologist Brad Panovich on YouTube

Where and When?

The SpaceX Starlink Satellites Tracker website predicts when a Starlink train will pass overhead for your selected location. The website cannot predict very far in advance because the calculations must be made after a payload rocket has launched. Though the launches are scheduled, the actual time of liftoff can change.

screenshot from for Pittsburgh PA on 9 June 2024 at 6am

Will the sky be clear for viewing the transit this week? So far so good according to the Pittsburgh Clear Sky Chart. Check the Starlink schedule above or on the web, then find a patch of dark sky and look up at the right moment in the direction indicated.

Creepy, eh?

And according to Wikipedia, “Astronomers have raised concerns about the effect the constellation may have on ground-based astronomy, and how the satellites will contribute to an already congested orbital environment.”

More information: Starlink is a satellite internet constellation whose purpose is to provide worldwide internet coverage and global mobile broadband [for a fee]. Starlink Services LLC is a subsidiary of SpaceX which is owned by Elon Musk. Since 2019 SpaceX has launched over 6,000 mass-produced small satellites into low Earth orbit. Nearly 12,000 satellites are planned to be deployed, with a possible later extension to 34,400.

3 thoughts on “Watch a String of Lights Cross the Sky

  1. Kate,

    Only being able to see the Starlink satellites after a recent launch is true if you are talking about naked eye viewing. But with binoculars you can see them on any clear night right after sun set or before sun rise. Just point your binoculars at a good dark area of the sky and you should quickly see one or more within a couple of minutes or less.

    When they are first launched they are in a lower orbit thus closer to us to more easily see. They then in a matter of several days move to a higher individual orbit requiring binoculars to see.

    Binoculars are a great tool for many things.

    1. Thanks, Gene. I never thought of trying binoculars. Our naked eye view was astonishing.

  2. I saw them a few years ago completely by accident. I happened to be in my driveway and noticed them. My first thought was, what is that?! The next day I saw an explanation either in the news or in a news article somewhere.

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