Skip to main content

No, they're not aliens — SpaceX's Starlink satellites surprise British skywatchers

British skywatchers spotted a trail of lights in their night skies this past weekend as SpaceX's Starlink satellites passed overhead. But some were left baffled by the sparkling display and even suggested on social media that it could be a meteor shower … or aliens. 

A shimmering trail of Starlink internet satellites trailed one after another in the sky over Essex in southeast England at approximately 9:20 p.m. local time (4:20 p.m. EDT; 2020 GMT) Sunday (April 19). 

Related: SpaceX's 1st Starlink megaconstellation launch in photos!

Twitter user @stevethebath asked, "Anybody know what the long chain of satellites going through the British sky right now are? Must be 50 of them so far?" 

More joined in, curious what the twinkling satellites might be. And many were quick to point the finger at "unidentified flying objects" (UFOs). 

However, while people got excited at the possibility of a glittering alien visit, the cosmic exhibition was really nothing more than some satellites. 

SpaceX intends to, over time, launch a megaconstellation of at least 12,000 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit to provide better, worldwide internet access. They have so far deployed 362 satellites and plan to launch 60 more on Wednesday (April 22). SpaceX announced Monday (April 20) that they would push up their original launch date of April 22 to April 21.

"With a more favorable weather forecast for launch and landing, now targeting Wednesday, April 22 at 3:37 p.m. EDT for this week's Falcon 9 Starlink mission," SpaceX wrote on Twitter

Now, while seeing these satellites in the sky can be an exciting experience and fuel the imagination (and even spark images of aliens), astronomers around the world remain concerned about the megaconstellation. They worry that these satellites will be too bright and will interfere with visibility for scientific observations. 

SpaceX founder Elon Musk and company engineers have said the company is working on ways to reduce the brightness of its Starlink satellites, including adding a darker exterior coating and adding a "sunshade" to reduce how shiny they appear.

Follow Chelsea Gohd on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

OFFER: Save 45% on 'All About Space' 'How it Works' and 'All About History'!

For a limited time, you can take out a digital subscription to any of our best-selling science magazines for just $2.38 per month, or 45% off the standard price for the first three months.View Deal

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

  • rarchimedes
    Elon is spamming those into orbit with the only reusable booster on the planet, something NASA and most others said wasn't possible. He is about to return U.S. astronauts to the ISS using U.S. equipment for the first time since the last Shuttle flight. ULA's Starliner is thrown into orbit by a Russian engined booster and it isn't yet ready in any case.

    It is apparent that the albedo of the satellites is being sharply reduced and the older, shinier ones will fairly rapidly fall from orbit. If telescopes cannot handle satellites of any albedo, then there will be a need to put telescopes in orbits above the constellations or on the back side of the Moon. They would work much better there in any case. If I worked for ULA or Roscosmos, I certainly would resent competition from the likes of SpaceX. Not only are SpaceX rockets at least partly reusable, they are less expensive, even in fully expendable mode. How does one compete with that, knowing that even if you make your rockets partly reusable, they can't compete, with a fully reusable rocket coming on in the very short term.

    Hopefully, the Starship and Superheavy combination will entirely replace the horrendously expensive SLS/Orion combination, giving us access to the Moon and Mars with other than expensive NASA toys and with entirely reusable rockets. Take a trip to the Moon, today, and in a week and a half, do it again with the same rocket. In the mean time, the SLS/Orion will cost around two billion per launch and the Orion will be refurbishable, not reusable. The SLS will burn up after use. There are parts for three SLS's and it appears that the launch rate will never exceed two per year, optimistically. How does one support a Moon base with two launches per year?
    Reply
  • sward
    Hi there, due to the forum rules, we've removed some inappropriate content and discussion of moderation from this thread, friendly reminder to keep content civil as per the forum rules. :)
    Reply
  • Truthseeker007
    What he is doing is polluting low Earth Orbit and the world with 5G. Where are the Climate Change folks on this?
    Reply
  • Francesco81
    I agree with you Truthseeker007 , this is horrible.
    I loved everything Elon did in the past . He is a great man , why fall so low with this ?
    Money ? is it fine to pollute the night sky, create problems for astronomers ? if you get enough money probably it is eh ?
    Reply
  • almacd64
    Truthseeker007 said:
    What he is doing is polluting low Earth Orbit and the world with 5G. Where are the Climate Change folks on this?
    Ahh, well to answer the actual question asked, Tim Dodd on the Everyday Astronaut YT channels has an excellent analysis of polution from rocket launches, and puts it into perspective with other stuff going on.

    As to your 5G statement, this is absolute rubbish. Starlink has nothing to do with 5G in any way shape or form.

    Thanks.
    Reply
  • almacd64
    Francesco81 said:
    I agree with you Truthseeker007 , this is horrible.
    I loved everything Elon did in the past . He is a great man , why fall so low with this ?
    Money ? is it fine to pollute the night sky, create problems for astronomers ? if you get enough money probably it is eh ?

    Umm, a point that seems to be glossed over in these articles is that these satellites are visible in the low drag configuration (ie narrow side facing the minimal atmosphere at that height, flat side facing down) while they are raising their orbits.

    Once they are at the their operating altitude their orientation changes.

    This is because they use very low power thrusters to raise their orbit, so it's good to avoid even the tiny amount of drag that they encounter from wisps of atmosphere.

    Once they're up you'd be hard pressed to find them.
    Reply
  • Truthseeker007
    Francesco81 said:
    I agree with you Truthseeker007 , this is horrible.
    I loved everything Elon did in the past . He is a great man , why fall so low with this ?
    Money ? is it fine to pollute the night sky, create problems for astronomers ? if you get enough money probably it is eh ?

    Thanks Francesco. The way I see it. It is all about the roll out of the 5G and control. A full on A,I, society rolled into Transhumanism.

    It sure is making MUFON very busy also with everyone thinking they are UFO's. Come to think of it now it will be hard to tell the difference between a real UFO and these satellites. In reality now when any UFO is reported they can just say it is satellites.
    Reply
  • Truthseeker007
    almacd64 said:
    Ahh, well to answer the actual question asked, Tim Dodd on the Everyday Astronaut YT channels has an excellent analysis of polution from rocket launches, and puts it into perspective with other stuff going on.

    As to your 5G statement, this is absolute rubbish. Starlink has nothing to do with 5G in any way shape or form.

    Thanks.

    So are you saying the article above is wrong where it states:

    "SpaceX intends to, over time, launch a megaconstellation of at least 12,000 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit to provide better, worldwide internet access."
    What do you think they will be supplying 4G internet? :D
    Reply
  • Lovethrust
    rarchimedes said:
    Elon is spamming those into orbit with the only reusable booster on the planet, something NASA and most others said wasn't possible.
    Yeah NASA never said that.
    Reply
  • Lovethrust
    almacd64 said:
    Once they're up you'd be hard pressed to find them.

    Tell that to the astronomers, the sats will find them.
    Reply