Astronomers-Satellite Pollution

In this photo taken May 6, 2021, with a long exposure, a string of SpaceX StarLink satellites passes over an old stone house near Florence, Kan. The train of lights was actually a series of relatively low-flying satellites launched by Elon Musk's SpaceX as part of its Starlink internet service earlier this week. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann, File)

Some Yuma residents reported seeing a strange pattern of lights in the sky near Pilot Knob earlier this month.

The lights, which were seen around 9 p.m. on May 5, were described as being like a row of planes moving in a half circle before disappearing.

Lt. Brett Vannier, spokesperson for Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, said that no flight operations were being conducted in that area during that time frame.

He further confirmed that all flights from MCAS-Yuma ended that day at 4:30 p.m.

Meteorologist Adam D’Anthony, of the National Weather Service in Phoenix, said what people reported seeing were not planes.

According to D’Anthony the lights were likely a chain of small satellites orbiting the earth.

The satellites were actually part of SpaceX’s Starlink constellation of more than 1,500 satellites, which have been deployed over the past two years to bring internet access to the entire planet.

D’Anthony explained that the satellite system was making what is known as a low-altitude passage, and it would have been visible from the ground under the right conditions.

“Relatively speaking, for people on the ground, it was pretty high up there, but for the satellites it was a fairly low trajectory,” D’Anthony said.

On May 4, SpaceX launched Starlink 24 on top of its Falcon 9 rocket, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, for the purpose of putting 60 more satellites into the constellation.

The mission was Starlink’s 26th, and it was also the 13th Falcon 9 launch of the year. The Falcon 9 rocket, according to, was named after the Millennium Falcon from the original George Lucas Star Wars trilogy.

SpaceX has launched more than 1,500 Starlink satellites into orbit, including 180 in May. Another 60 after that are expected to be launched before the end of the month.

According to SpaceX, the satellites are sometimes visible in the first few minutes after sundown and before sunrise when the sun is below the horizon, and they have to be high enough to reflect direct sunlight.

Seeing the Starlink satellites depends not only on light conditions, but also which satellites are overhead.

People should be able to recognize them easily enough because they will appear as a pattern of bright lights moving across the sky.


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