Since 2018, hundreds of people have taken to social media to report seeing strange lights in the night sky. Some people even became so concerned that they called local authorities to say what they were seeing. Authorities are quick to calm residents down by assuring them that they are witnessing satellites launched by Elon Musk's SpaceX program.
What Are Starlink Satellites?
The most common satellite seen in the night sky is the Starlink satellite, which resembles twinkling stars. These appear to be small, flat rectangles. If you look at them through a high-powered telescope, you will see solar arrays on them. They are often launched from Falcon 9 in sets of 60 and form a line of twinkling objects in the night sky. The line will move steadily across the night sky and may reappear and disappear several times during the night.
Elon Musk designed these satellites to bring broadband internet to people worldwide. There are almost 5,000 of them in the night sky as of September 2023, with Musk having plans to release up to 38,000 more in the next few years.
In addition, he has sought approval from the Federal Communication Commission to release even more satellites in the decades to come. The commission has already approved launching up to 12,000 of them by 2030, so reports of seeing them in the night sky should become more frequent. If you want to see Starlink satellites in the night sky, numerous apps will tell you when they should be visible.
Generally, storms do not affect Starlink satellites once launched, but geomagnetic storms caused 40 satellites to crash shortly after launch on February 3, 2020. Geomagnetic storms, often referred to as magnetic storms or solar storms, are disturbances in the Earth's magnetic field caused by interactions between the solar wind and the Earth's magnetic field.
Solar activity typically triggers these storms on the sun, which start as solar flares and coronal mass ejections. Experts with Musk's company believe that the solar winds causing the damage left the sun on January 30, 2020. It is possible that the satellites failed to enter the Earth's orbit because of drag at lower atmospheric levels.
As the satellites burnt up in space about 130 miles from the Earth's surface, many people reported seeing fireballs over Puerto Rico. NOAA captured images of the burning satellites as they streaked across the night sky. Musk and his team designed the satellites to burn up if they cannot enter their orbit without any debris from them returning to the ground.