Technological advancements in the space industry have made observing satellites in orbit, like SpaceX’s Starlink, a fascinating experience. These satellites play a crucial role in forming a low Earth orbit network to provide high-speed, low-latency internet services worldwide. In this article, we will analyze how and when you can see Starlink satellites, as well as the best ways to observe them.
Starlink, SpaceX’s satellite constellation project, has played a crucial role in expanding global connectivity. With thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit, these small bright dots are visible from Earth at certain times. Let’s see how you can witness this night show.
Understanding Starlink’s Orbits
The strategic location of Starlink’s satellites in low Earth orbit is a key factor in their visibility and functionality. By understanding the characteristics of these orbits, we can better appreciate why Starlink satellites are visible from Earth at specific times and how their arrangement contributes to variability in observation opportunities.
Starlink is in low Earth orbit around the Earth. The choice of a low orbit has significant implications for satellite functionality and visibility.
Low Earth Orbit and Its Relevance
Low Earth orbit (LEO) is the region of space that is relatively close to the planet. Satellites in low Earth orbit experience less latency and have the ability to offer faster and more efficient connectivity. In the case of Starlink, the satellite constellation is distributed across multiple orbital planes within this region.
Visibility from Earth
The proximity of the satellites to the planet significantly contributes to their visibility from Earth. When these satellites are illuminated by the Sun and the Earth is in darkness or low-light conditions, the reflections of sunlight on their surfaces make them appear as bright points in the night sky. This phenomenon allows terrestrial observers to detect them during certain periods.
Variable Inclination and Altitude
The inclination and altitude of Starlink’s satellite orbits are not constant but vary. Inclination refers to the angle between the satellite’s orbital plane and the Earth’s equator. An inclination of zero would indicate an equatorial orbit, while an inclination of 90 degrees would be polar. Altitude refers to the distance between the satellite and the Earth’s surface.
The variability in the inclination and altitude of the orbits is essential to optimize Starlink’s global coverage. By distributing the satellites in different orbital planes and altitudes, the capacity to provide connectivity to diverse geographic areas is maximized, and the possibility of congestion in a specific region of space is minimized.
Impact on Observation Opportunities
This variability in the orbital arrangement of Starlink’s satellites contributes to variability in observation opportunities from Earth. Depending on the observer’s location and the position of the satellites in their orbit, there will be specific moments when the satellites will be visible. This also means that the frequency and duration of visibility may vary, creating a dynamic experience for those wishing to observe these bright points in the night sky.
Applications to Track Starlink Satellites and Know When They Pass
Tracking and observing Starlink satellites have captured the imagination of space enthusiasts and curious individuals alike. Fortunately, several applications are specifically designed to facilitate this experience. Here are three prominent ones, each offering a unique perspective to locate and track Starlink satellites.
Satellite Tracker: A Detailed Look
The Satellite Tracker application stands out for its explicit focus on locating and identifying satellites. By downloading it, you gain a powerful tool to visualize the trajectory of satellites on the Earth map or in the night sky in real-time. Moreover, the application provides three-dimensional models of the satellites in their current positions on Earth.
Viewing Modes: The application offers three viewing modes. You can switch between them using the three buttons at the bottom of the main screen.
Starlink Tracking: To locate Starlink satellites through Satellite Tracker, select the satellite icon in the top right corner of the screen. Navigate to the “All” tab and look for the “SpaceX’s Starlink” section. Choose the launch of your interest and select the “Track” button next to one or more satellites to add them to your tracking list.
Real-Time Location: To see the satellite’s current location above you, tap the button in the bottom right corner and follow the white arrow to know where the satellite is at that moment.
Next Pass: The “Next pass” timer counts down the time remaining until the next flyover of the selected satellite over your location. You can set a reminder by tapping the timer and selecting the alarm clock icon.
Sky Tonight: Free data on the current location of Starlink satellites. With a simple design and an easy-to-use search system, it is a perfect tool to look for Starlink in the sky.
Star Walk 2: Satellite Exploration
The Star Walk 2 app, designed for star observation, also includes detailed information about the location of various celestial objects, including Starlink satellites.
Search for Starlink: Open Star Walk 2 and tap the magnifying glass icon. Then select the satellite icon in the bottom bar of the side panel.