Why you can see eerie bright lights in the San Francisco Bay sky tonight

You may have spotted a mysterious string of lights, lined up in a row and moving like a train, across the night sky on Thursday.

Elon Musk is in charge of the show in the sky and tonight there will be an even brighter repeat performance.

Musk’s company SpaceX launched the Starlink satellites on May 4 – yes, Star Wars Day – from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at the Kennedy Space Center. The Falcon 9 booster sent 60 Starlink satellites into the atmosphere.

The latest prediction at 11:30 a.m. Friday for the satellite train’s first climb over the Bay Area sky is around 9:24 p.m. to 9:25 p.m. Friday. They will be visible for about 5 minutes, according to the Heavens-Above website, where you can plug in your location to determine what time satellites will pass through your area. (Note: The display may change slightly during the day.)

The site reported that Starlink will pass almost directly overhead tonight and be 10 to 15 times brighter than last night. The satellites will rise from the northwest and disappear into Earth’s shadow shortly after passing overhead to the southeast.

You can also check when the satellites will pass your area here.

The Starlink train is particularly visible in the sky because it is “60 times closer to Earth than traditional satellites,” according to the company, and can provide communication service to remote and underserved areas.

Made from a reflective material, satellites can become visible when sunlight hits them in the hours just after sunset or before sunrise, according to the International Astronomical Union.

“Every two months, they launch another 60,” said Gerald McKeegan, astronomer at Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland. “When they first launch them, it’s a little chain of satellites that are close together, and then they slowly separate from each other. It’s fun for people because you see this string of lights, but astronomers go crazy because of light pollution. . They are supposed to take them higher in the atmosphere over time so that they become less noticeable. “

The union and the National Radio Astronomical Observatory have both expressed concern in the past about satellites being too bright and causing problems for astronomers.

“ The organization, in general, embraces the principle of a dark and radio-silent sky as not only essential for advancing our understanding of the Universe of which we are a part, but also as a resource for all humanity and for the protection of the night. wildlife, ”the union said in an online statement. “We do not yet understand the impact of thousands of these visible satellites scattered across the night sky and despite their good intentions, these satellite constellations can threaten both.”

McKeegan said the Starlink satellites as well as other satellites are interfering with their work at the Oakland Science Center.

“We have an asteroid search program in the center and that involves taking images across the sky to look for moving objects,” he explained. “What happens is these satellites before those white streaks in the image. It ruins the image. It was a bit of a problem before, but it’s a much bigger problem with more and more of satellites. “

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