Train of lights visible across Southern Utah sky Sunday night

The night sky at an undisclosed location on an unspecified date. | Photo by Vincentiu Solomon/Unsplash, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Should the clouds stay out of the way, a train of satellites will be putting on a show across the Southern Utah sky Sunday night.

Image of the latest batch of 60 Starlink satellites after deployment from their Falcon 9 booster above the Earth on April 20, 2020. | Photo courtesy SpaceX, St. George News

At around 9:36 and for the next three minutes after, a string of 60 Starlink satellites will be bright enough to be seen with the naked eye in the north, passing near Polaris the North Star.

The satellites, part of entrepreneur Elon Musk’s fledgling satellite internet company, were launched together April 22 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, atop one of Musk’s Space X Falcon 9 rockets.

Utah NASA solar system ambassador Patrick Wiggins told St. George News the string of satellites won’t be making as much of a show as they will in the northern part of the state, but it will still be stellar to watch.

A map of the night sky showing the path of the Starlink satellite “train” on the night of April 26, 2020 in St. George, Utah. | Image courtesy Patrick Wiggins, St. George News

“It’s not quite as good a show as in the north but still visible,” Wiggins said. ” It will be rising in the northwest about a minute later than in the north but only making it about half way up the northeast sky before fading out at 9:39.”

The satellites, at an average of 364 miles above the Earth, are high enough that they will still be reflecting light from the Sun even after it has set and the skies are dark in Southern Utah. Right after passing a little below Polaris, they will fully enter Earth’s shadow and seemingly disappear.

At between 2.5 and 2.0 magnitude, they will be around the same brightness as the stars in the Big Dipper, also known as the Ursa Major constellation.

In fact, the Big Dipper will be a good way to track where the satellite train is in the sky. Viewers can use the two stars that make up the right side of the “dipper” and they will point directly to Polaris.

Unlike the twinkling stars, the train of Starlink satelites will be look like a steady string of lights, almost like the lights of a parade of airplanes flying overhead in the distance.

As of now, SpaceX has launched 422 of the Starlink satellites, but plans are to eventually have 4,425 of the satellites. Each has a flat panel design around eight feet wide, or the size of an office whiteboard.

The one thing that could stand in the way of seeing the show in the sky is the weather. The National Weather Service forecast says it will be partly cloudy between 9 and 10 p.m. Sunday night.

Editor’s note: The story previously identified Wiggins as a professor for the University of Utah. He is an outreach science demonstrator in public schools for the university. 

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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