Satellites and Space Junk

When the alarm went off, I turned off my lights and walked outside. Stood facing north. The dry leaves of the trees rustled in the breeze — it was only May, and we were under a red-flag warning already. The jasmine blooming behind my landlord’s fence perfumed the air.

Though it was exactly what I expected, the sight of the satellites streaming silently overhead astonished me: a “train” of sixty or more points of light, traveling in a straight line amid the stars. Tiny white stitches running through the fabric of the night.

This was Starlink, preparing the way to bring me the better internet service that I’ve coveted for the better part of a decade at my rural apartment. I eagerly plunked down a deposit for it last February. I’ll be waiting for a while.

Screenshot of Starlink status—expected in late 2022.

The satellites had been released en masse from a rocket, and were now orbiting gradually higher and spreading out until they reached their final positions.

It was a very odd moment, to be in the same body as the 5-year-old that had looked up at the moon in wonder as men first walked on it. “Can we see them?” I asked, and requested that my parents get the binoculars out. I felt like she was standing right there with me now, that kid, despite the half-century that separates us.

Now rockets are becoming as common as planes, our skies filled with spectacles as they go up…

…and as they come down

We don’t spend much time contemplating the night sky anymore. What about people who still do? What must they think when these strange sights appear?

The night sky has always been a source of contemplation, serving as our handle for grasping the truth of being insignificant — yet being, all the same — in the unimaginable universe. It has been a poetic and readily available experience of something unaffected by the hand of humans.

Until now.

Standing there in the dark, I felt a sense of loss. But at the same time, I felt a child’s sense of wonder.

You can check to see if Starlink is viewable from your location on James Darpinian’s satellite tracking website — I viewed the Starlink train on May 7, 2021, and there are fewer opportunities to see one as of this writing. There are also reports that Starlink will be making changes that will reduce visibility of the satellites.

If you like the idea of knowing what’s happening in the world of rocket launches and space junk, follow Jonathan McDowell on Twitter.




Editor, Better Humans, for Bubbles, amateur pyro, hawk watch/birding, permaculture, zen, Gaia lover. RPCV Ghana 2011–2013.

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Terrie Schweitzer

Terrie Schweitzer

Editor, Better Humans, for Bubbles, amateur pyro, hawk watch/birding, permaculture, zen, Gaia lover. RPCV Ghana 2011–2013.

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