UNUSUAL. What is this strange “luminous train” observed in the sky of the English Channel


Friday October 16, 6 h 30, a farmer ofHambye (Manche), Christophe Lesouef, walks in a field to bring his cows for milking. “I like to watch the stars,” he tells us. But that morning he was speechless.

It was a chain of stars. It was like a rainbow passing over me, very high in the sky. I looked at the compass on my phone. It was right from west to east. It lasted well 5 to 10 minutes. There was no trail, no flickering. It was impressive. It was like a train with the cars on that you can see yourself passing in the distance ”

Christophe LesouefFarmer in Hambye (Manche)

The Starlink project

According to an employee of the Ludiver planetarium, based in La Hague (Cotentin), these are satellite launches as part of the Starlink project of American billionaire Elon Musk, creator of the company SpaceX.

Each group of satellites launched into the Earth’s atmosphere causes this sensation of a luminous train. The camera of the Astronomical Group of Querqueville (Cherbourg-en-Cotentin) has no image of them: “It sees them but it throws them away because it is not a signal that interests it. There is software that can manage this, ”explains President Dominique Boust.

Among the association, the volunteer Michel Arnaud takes a closer look at this crazy project. “It’s quite impressive. It is spectacular. A lot of people are wondering, ”he admits.

The first test took place on May 25, 2019

Billionaire Elon Musk’s goal is to mesh the Earth’s atmosphere with 12,000 satellites that would allow all the inhabitants of the planet, even in the most remote areas, to have access to the Internet. But “the other objective is to divide by three the latency time compared to what we have by the best optical fibers”, explains Michel Arnaud.

A few satellites were launched on May 25, 2019 during the zero launch. “The first two launches that we really saw were launches 1 and 2 in November 2019 and January 2020. Since then, they have fired every month,” continues Michel Arnaud.

They are placed in a low orbit of 170 km then they are mounted in groups of 60 to 64 in orbit between 400 and 500 km. They take between 3 and 8 days to assemble ”

Michel ArnaudMember of the Querqueville Astronomical Group

Already around 900 satellites in orbit

Elon Musk’s goal is to propel all of his small satellites (each weighs about 230 kg) 1,200 km from the earth. For comparison, the moon is 384,400 km away. Michel Arnaud estimates: “There are around 900 satellites in orbit. Ultimately, the constellation will be around 12,000, to within plus or minus 3,000 ”.

Are the first tests carried out by SpaceX conclusive? “There are rumors but there is no communication” because the financial stakes are colossal. In addition, several astronomers accuse these satellites of becoming light pollution of the sky by the reflections they return. “Even when they are in high orbit, they will still have a brightness that will disturb the observations.” And they will use one of the radio frequencies already in use, hence possible interference.

Next visit this Monday, October 19 around 7:10 a.m.

If you want to observe this phenomenon, it is not too late because, as you will have understood, many other launches are scheduled. The Heavens Above site, which we advised us to go to the Ludiver planetarium, mentions the Starlink launches.

According to Michel Arnaud of GAQ, the next possible sighting of these “luminous trains” will take place this Monday, October 19 in the morning, from 7:10 am to 7:19 am French time. If the weather allows it, of course.

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