The stars appeared to align over Southern California this week, but that parade of lights in the night sky was actually a chain of small satellites deployed to bring internet access to the entire planet.
They’re part of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation of more than 1,500 satellites orbiting Earth about 340 miles up. They’ve been shuttled into space by SpaceX rockets over that past two years, but become visible when light conditions are just right.
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The satellites are sometimes visible in the first few minutes after sundown and before sunrise when the sun is below the horizon, but the satellites are high enough to reflect direct sunlight.
Did you miss them earlier this week? Use the FindStarlink tracker to find the best upcoming viewing times.
SpaceX has launched more than 1,500 Starlink satellites into orbit, including 120 this month. Another 60 are being launched on May 9 and another 60 after that are expected to be launched before the end of the month.
It's not clear how many satellites SpaceX will launch as part of Starlink.
Soon after the first few hundred satellites were placed into orbit, astronomers using ground-based telescopes voiced concerns that the highly reflective Starlink satellites may interfere with their observations. SpaceX began testing various versions of the satellites that reflected less light before settling on the version being installed now, the VisorSat, which comes with a sunshade that reduces the reflection of sunlight.
So, whether you see the Starlink satellites depends not only on light conditions, but also which Starlink satellites are overhead. You’ll recognize them by what appears to be a train of bright, white lights movings at a decent pace across the sky.
Earlier this month, SpaceX said they have received more than 500,000 orders for Starlink service which is still in beta and not yet available everywhere.