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Starlink satellites create a line of bright lights in night sky, causing a stir

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel logo Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 5/8/2021 Mike Johnson and La Risa R. Lynch, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

If you're a fan of scanning the sky for things that glow in the night — and even if you're not — you might want to look to the heavens for a satellite train that is causing some excitement across the country.

Some people have wondered if the bright lights they were seeing were UFOs, as one TV station in Texas reported.

They're not. They are satellites launched by Elon Musk's SpaceX as part of its Starlink internet service.

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In the Milwaukee area and other parts of Wisconsin, they were visible just before 10 p.m. Friday, a string of at least 50 of them almost equidistant apart, cruising in a line across the night sky and looking like stars.

a sky view looking up at night: In this photo taken with a long exposure, a string of SpaceX StarLink satellites passes over an old stone house near Florence, Kan., Thursday, May 6, 2021. © Reed Hoffmann, AP In this photo taken with a long exposure, a string of SpaceX StarLink satellites passes over an old stone house near Florence, Kan., Thursday, May 6, 2021.

They were also seen Thursday night. WBAY-TV in Green Bay reported that its phones were ringing off the hook from people reporting the "line of white lights" in the sky.

You might be able to see the satellites Saturday night. Of course, it will depend on the satellites' orbit. And just like gazing at the stars, it will depend on how clear the night is.

A Starlink satellite tracker website, https://findstarlink.com/#1573;3, says the newest satellites, which were launched Tuesday, won't be "very visible" over the next five days in the Milwaukee area. Though, this "might change in the coming weeks, due to changing orbits. The older Starlinks might still be visible."

The tracker says look from northwest to northeast about 9:40 p.m. Saturday, northwest to west around 10:05 p.m. Sunday and northwest to east about 8:55 p.m. Monday. The tracker site warns that times may vary by about 10 minutes.

SpaceX has launched nearly 1,600 satellites to date.

Paul Borchardt, the observatory director at the Milwaukee Astronomical Society, says he doesn’t know in particular if some of the satellites he’s seen are the latest Musk’s company has been launching.

“I do see a lot of satellites out every night when it is clear out from all kinds of sources, but the vast quantity that this initiative by Elon Musk for communications is putting up is a whole lot more than what there is already up there.”

Even though it is dark on the ground, Borchardt says the satellites are high enough to reflect sunlight “and we see them as streaks slowly moving through the sky.”

“It’s interesting to see satellites moving by because they are different than airplanes. They have no flashing lights … and a lot of them are smaller than an automobile and they are hundreds of miles away, but we can see them due to the reflecting light.”

“Actually, the most interesting satellite to see go by is the International Space Station,” he said. “That one is really neat because it is bright. It could get as bright as Venus as it goes overhead. You can see it sometimes from horizon to horizon depending on the time of night where the sun is.” (You can track the International Space Station at https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/).

He said satellites can be seen during twilight, early evening and really late at night right before morning twilight when satellites in low orbits can be seen.

When asked if Musk’s satellites would pique kids' curiosity about astronomy, he said it may.

“I think anything that could get somebody looking up looking for satellites, you might start noticing the patterns of the stars behind them. And that could be all it takes to flip the switch.”

Also up in the sky, is a Chinese rocket that is hurtling back to Earth and was expected to hit sometime Saturday

USA Today reports that experts are warning it could strike an inhabited area, but it's more likely that debris will fall harmlessly into the ocean. China's government has said it expects most of the rocket to burn up during reentry. 

The nonprofit Aerospace Corp. expects the debris could hit Earth Saturday around 10:30 p.m. Central time.

Where, exactly, remains a mystery — for now. As of Saturday morning, Aerospace Corp.'s latest projections put a large swath of the U.S. — including areas near New York City, Detroit and San Diego — near projected paths of the rocket after the predicted reentry time. But a Saturday morning projection placed the rocket's predicted reentry over the Atlantic Ocean. 

The rocket's final destination "cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its reentry,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Starlink satellites create a line of bright lights in night sky, causing a stir

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