Elon Musk and SpaceX have launched over 400 Starlink satellites into space in the hopes they will provide the world (potentially Australia too) with satellite internet. It’s a monumental project and one that Australians can see in the flesh, thanks to an app that tracks local viewing times of the satellites.
Stargazing is a popular pastime for many Australians with an appreciation or fascination for the night sky but man-made phenomena are becoming increasingly popular to spot, too. The Starlink satellite program, operated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, is designed to offer the world extremely fast and cheap satellite internet by launching thousands of satellites into space.
It's launched 480 satellites in total since mid-2019, according to TechCrunch, which Musk has previously stated is enough to provide minor coverage globally.
Much will likely go wrong on 1st mission. Also, 6 more launches of 60 sats needed for minor coverage, 12 for moderate.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 12, 2019
Unlike TV satellites which orbit the planet in the geosynchronous orbit (GSO), nearly 36,000 kilometres from Earth, Starlink's satellites are deployed in the low Earth orbit (LEO), around 500 kilometres from Earth, making them much easier to spot with the human eye.
It's somewhat controversial due to the fact these satellites emit light pollution, lowering the visibility of planets and stars. Still, if you're lucky enough to spot it, it's a pretty impressive sight.
— Astrit Spanca (@astritspanca776) April 19, 2020
How to see Starlink satellites from Australia
Australians can see the satellites too, though it will depend on how close to city or town lights you are as well as the sky's visibility. The Find Starlink Satellites app, available on Apple and Android, lets users select their city to see the best viewing times to see one of the Starlink trains.
Once you select your closest city, the app will give you dates and times for the best viewing. All you got to do is set yourself a reminder and look up at the sky in the direction it tells you.
Of course, they're not always going to be easy to spot. Given the satellites proximity to Earth, you'll need to be fairly close to the city you've selected to get a view. Light pollution will also affect your chances. The app does offer regional town options, such as Geelong, Newcastle, Wollongong and Townsville, but unless you're living there or the capital cities, it's going to take a bit of effort to work out where you might catch a glimpse.
Thankfully, Find Starlink's browser page offers a handy real-time map so you can track how close the satellites are from your location.
Happy satellite gazing!