Earlier this month, aurora hunters in Alaska had double the fun of watching the skies.
The trail of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites was visible in front of the dramatic green aurora borealis, as evidenced by the Aurora Chasers travel group. (will open in a new tab) in a new video filmed near Fairbanks on September 2.
Inland Alaskan tour guide Ronn Murray has long wanted to use Starlight’s broadband service. He’s still waiting, but at least he’s seen satellites in the sky, he told SpaceWeather.com. (will open in a new tab).
“We saw it when we had guests on our Northern Lights tour,” Murray said, adding, “It was really beautiful.” Starlinks were visible on September 1 at 11:00 pm local time and again on September 2 at 1:00 am. Murray and his wife and business partner Marketa Murray witnessed both spans and filmed the video a second time.
In recent years, Starlink has come under scrutiny from the astronomical community due to the apparent brightness of the satellites. SpaceX has repeatedly said it is taking action to dim individual satellites, but the community remains concerned, especially given the pace of SpaceX Starlink launches.
(Image credit: Aurora Hunters)
SpaceX has launched over 3,200 Starlinks into space and has permission to send up to 12,000, at least for now; it has also approached the international regulator to launch another 30,000.
The party seen in Alaska was launched in August. 31 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, and since then SpaceX has launched Starlinks three more times. The next launch is scheduled for today (September 14) from the Space Force Station at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
However, the satellites shown in the video were not yet in their operational orbit. The satellites were at an estimated altitude of just 198 miles (320 kilometers), slightly lower than the International Space Station flies.
Starlink satellites so close to Earth could “easily outshine a star of the first magnitude,” writes SpaceWeather.com. (An example of such a bright star is Deneb in the constellation Cygnus.)
(Image credit: SpaceX)
The operating altitude of Starlink is about 372 miles (600 km), where this batch was supposed to go a few days after launch.
As satellites gain altitude, they disappear from view with the naked eye. But they are still visible in wide-angle telescopes as streaks that can interfere with asteroid sightings and other forms of astronomy, critics say.
Starlink provides affordable service to remote areas that otherwise have difficulty accessing high-speed internet, SpaceX said.
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