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'It's not aliens': Reports of dozens of UFOs in straight line turn out to be SpaceX satellites
EDMONTON -- A shocking sight in the night sky — dozens of lights passing over the Edmonton area that many believed were a convoy of UFOs — is actually the latest launch of SpaceX's new satellites, astronomers say.
Reports of bright lights in a near-perfect linear formation started to stream in on social media at around 6:45 p.m. Sunday.
"I went outside to have a cigarette and I just started looking up at the sky," said Todd Goulet, who spotted the strange lights from southwest Edmonton. "All of a sudden, there's a satellite. Wait a minute, there's another one…and another one."
Others also wondered whether the lights were an alien invasion or a mass missile launch, noting they'd never seen anything like them.
(Courtesy Todd Goulet)
But a local astronomer is shedding light on the celestial spectacle, saying it was a result of the latest launch of 60 mini-satellites intended to provide high-speed internet coverage around the globe.
"These are the Starlink satellite trains. They're being launched by SpaceX, which is Elon Musk's private space business that's famous for the Falcon launches and landings at sea of the launch stages and so on," said Bruce McCurdy of the Edmonton chapter of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.
The second batch of satellites was launched by SpaceX in early November after 60 were sent into orbit in May. The previous launch sparked its own frenzy in Europe, with many mistaking the satellites for UFOs.
The company plans to launch thousands of the compact, 260-kilogram satellites, and Musk has said he wants to start providing internet service to the northern U.S. and Canada in 2020, with other regions to follow.
The compact cluster of satellites may not have been noticed until now because they only appear as faint lights unless they're in the "flare zone," where the sun reflects off the metal structures.
"Unless it's passing through one of those zones, all you see is steady, faint lights," he said. "You need the right combination of circumstances to see them. You need the sun to be far enough below the horizon for the sky to be dark, but not so far below the horizon that it doesn't light the satellites themselves."
Because the satellites are in low orbit they appear to move faster than regular satellites, but McCurdy stressed that no, these are not UFOs.
"It's not aliens. I guess some Americans might consider Elon Musk himself to be an alien by their legal definition of aliens, but they're not extraterrestrials, let's put it that way."
Anyone who missed the unusual sight will get another chance to see the Starlink satellites Monday night, with the best opportunity between 5:35 and 5:45 p.m. in the southwest sky.
They'll pass by again every 90 minutes or so, but will be less visible.