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It’s not aliens, it’s the internet

Posted on Wednesday, September 13, 2023 at 10:00 am

DUANE SHERRILL

Contributor

 

The string of lights in the night sky spotted by scores of middle Tennessee residents recently is not an impending alien invasion but instead is the advent of what will be worldwide internet connectivity.

The lights reported by numerous local residents over the past weeks are part of the Starlink Satellite train which is part of Elon Musk’s SpaceX program which has been aggressively launching the communication satellites into orbit. Thus far over 4,000 and counting have been deployed and are into a shallow space orbit, already providing connectivity for many.

The program is nothing new as the satellites began being deployed in 2019 and the program is nowhere near through as the goal is to deploy about 50,000 satellites around the planet to provide internet connectivity to every square inch of Earth. While some are already benefiting from the satellite coverage, the subscription is still a bit pricy and some say that reception can be glitchy during stormy weather.

The recent uptick in sightings comes as SpaceX has been upping their launch schedules, deploying multiple satellites on each launch. Since the payload bays are stuffed full of the satellites given the fact rockets are expensive to launch, the deploying satellites appear to the naked eye as trains of lights in the sky. However, the ability to see the satellites are dependent on atmospheric conditions since the satellites have no lights. Instead, they are made visible by reflection of the Sun when it hits at certain angles, explaining why the trains can appear and disappear over a span of a few minutes. Also, given the need for a particular angle of the Sun to make them visible, they can only be viewed early in the evening or just before dawn when the Sun is just below the horizon.

Also making viewing hit and miss is the relatively small amount of time the vehicles can be seen. Since they aren’t lighted they cannot generally be seen by the naked eye once they reach their intended orbit. Instead, the window for viewing comes shortly after launch. However, launch times vary according to conditions so the only way, outside of happenstance to view the celestial wonder is to keep up with SpaceX launches. Those who want to try to catch a glimpse of a Starlink train may go to https://findstarlink.com or go to the SpaceX website to find out when there is a launch.