SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

Streak of lights seen over Utah from SpaceX’s Starlink satellites

May 6, 2021, 6:50 AM | Updated: Sep 10, 2023, 2:13 pm

A link of Starlink satellites is seen over Tooele County on May 5, 2021. (Rob Hopper)...

A link of Starlink satellites is seen over Tooele County on May 5, 2021. (Rob Hopper)

(Rob Hopper)

SALT LAKE CITY – A string of lights that streaked across northern Utah’s skies Wednesday night came from a recent batch of Starlink satellites, according to Patrick Wiggins, NASA’s solar system ambassador to Utah.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX sent 60 flat-paneled broadband satellites to orbit onboard the Falcon 9 on May 4.

Wiggins said the satellites were seen in a line over Utah Wednesday night until they entered the Earth’s shadow.

Wiggins said he received several reports of the lights “moving slowly across the sky and then ‘mysteriously’ disappearing.”

“What was actually happening was these Starlink satellites, in orbit, coming toward the east and running into the shadow of the Earth,” Wiggins said. “Of course, they don’t give off light by themselves, they only reflect light. So as soon as they went into the shadow of the Earth, they were no longer visible from down here.”

The lights will be visible again Thursday night around 10:20 p.m.

The 60 satellites are part of Starlink’s constellation that could swell to over 30,000 satellites in orbit. Over 1,300 satellites are already in orbit.

The company’s goal is to deliver high-speed internet to anyone on the planet.

Some KSL viewers were concerned the lights could have been a large Chinese rocket that is out of control and set to reenter Earth’s atmosphere this weekend.

The Pentagon is tracking that rocket, but its “exact entry point into the Earth’s atmosphere” can’t be pinpointed until within hours of reentry, according to a statement from Defense Department spokesperson Mike Howard.

It is expected to reenter Earth’s atmosphere sometime Saturday, but Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Center at Harvard University, told CNN that the situation is “not the end of days.”

“I don’t think people should take precautions. The risk that there will be some damage or that it would hit someone is pretty small — not negligible, it could happen — but the risk that it will hit you is incredibly tiny. And so I would not lose one second of sleep over this on a personal threat basis,” he said.

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Streak of lights seen over Utah from SpaceX’s Starlink satellites