StarLink satellites bright lights in the Sydney sky

Brilliant trails of light struck the skies over Sydney over the weekend but, despite their UFO-like appearance, astronomers say something a little closer to Earth was responsible: Elon Musk’s Starlink company.

Dozens of subsidiary SpaceX satellites were launched on Saturday (Sydney time) from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, as they headed southeast toward low-Earth orbit.

The Starlink satellites entering low Earth orbit as seen from Sydney.

The Starlink satellites entering low Earth orbit as seen from Sydney.Credit:Kelly Ireland and Jen Walton

The satellites were the latest in a series of more than 2,000 objects already launched, part of Starlink’s bid to bring fast broadband access to people in “areas where connectivity has been unreliable or unavailable for complete,” says its website.

The 53 satellites launched from the US caught the attention of Sydneysiders on Saturday night because of the relatively new way they were launched, said Dr. Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at the Australian National University.

Each dot is an individual satellite launched meters away, before slowly expanding for hundreds of meters, he said.

“They always look weird … because they fly in these lines or constellations,” he said. “We are talking about a fairly close formation in a very tight orbit, and this is because they want this global formation. [broadband] coverage. They need the satellites to fly in flight paths so that the exact same points are covered every time.”

The sheer number of satellites flying overhead combined with the timing of Starlink’s launch meant that Sydney had a brief show in the sky, Tucker said. Satellites are only visible from Earth mainly when the sun is reflecting off them.

“You’re only going to see a satellite until about two hours after sunset or before sunrise. And that’s because the angle of the sun can still reflect off satellites and then come back to Earth,” she said.

“These [satellites] they always stand out because you see them in a row.”

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