A Starlink satellite felled by a geomagnetic storm has gone out in a blaze of glory, as this dramatic footage from Puerto Rico shows.
A camera in Añasco, Puerto Rico, captured the footage around 2:40 a.m. AST (1:40 a.m. EST) on the morning of February 7. The camera is part of a network operated by Sociedad de Astronomia del Caribe (SAC), a non-profit organisation composed of professionals, students, and community members with an interest in astronomy.
The video “shows two objects appearing about one minute apart, both reentering and fragmenting,” Marco Langbroek, a satellite expert from Leiden University, explained in a blog post. The second object, he said, was particularly “spectacular,” adding that the two objects could belong to a single object that broke up earlier or two separate objects that were close together in the same orbital plane.
A geomagnetic storm is being blamed for the loss of 40 SpaceX Starlink satellites launched from Kennedy Space Centre on February 3. The inclement space weather caused the “atmosphere to warm and atmospheric density at our low deployment altitudes to increase,” preventing the satellites from ascending to their operational orbits, according to SpaceX. The company said 40 of the 49 satellites launched to space “will reenter or already have reentered the Earth’s atmosphere,” and that the satellites will disintegrate upon atmospheric reentry.
The second of the two break-up events was particularly dramatic. Eddie Irizarry, scientific communicator for SAC, said in a SAC release (translated with Google Translate) that it was “one of the most striking and impressive sightings of disintegration observed from Puerto Rico.” Juan Velez, a SAC supporter, said he “saw it from the beginning and it was very different from [meteors]” and that he’ll “never be able to forget this event.”
Langbroek is “positive” that the scenes recorded above Puerto Rico can be linked to the incoming Starlink satellites. His calculations yielded orbital inclinations between 54 and 56 degrees, and while Starlink satellites are in 53.2-degree inclined orbits, “this is close enough (given the error margin) to conclude that the reentering object fits with the Starlink orbital plane,” he wrote.
More scenes like these are expected in the coming days, so “keep an eye on the sky!” said Langbroek.