Island residents got an unexpected aerial show over the weekend, leaving some wondering if they'd just had a close encounter of the third kind.
Dozens of island residents noticed a strange streak of light in the skies above Nantucket around 7:40 p.m. on Saturday night, one that appeared to be rising up into the atmosphere.
But it wasn't the little green men. The spectacle was the result of the Space X launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The 230-foot rocket lifted off around 7:32 p.m., and within 10 minutes it was clearly visible from almost every area of the island.
Reports came pouring in over social media, with numerous Nantucket Current followers sharing videos with our Instagram account and speculating about the origin of the strange light streaking across the sky over the island.
While initially unsure about the sightings, Nantucket Memorial Airport tower manager Patrick Topham told the Current he believes it was indeed the the SpaceX launch that originated in Florida.
The Falcon 9 rocket will put another 52 Starlink internet satellites into low Earth orbit, part of billionaire Elon Musk’s bid to provide global Internet access via satellite.
While the Space X Falcon rockets and the Starlink satellites have been mistaken by some for UFOs and are a fascinating sight in the night sky, they are concerning to astronomers, including Dr. Regina Jorgenson, the Director of Astronomy at the Maria Mitchell Association on Nantucket.
“Of course, I have heard a lot about these – as they are a major issue/threat for astronomy,” Jorgenson told the Current last year following a Starlink satellite sighting over the island. She cited the potential for interference with astronomical observations and light pollution in the night sky.
There are now more than 2,300 functioning Starlink satellites in orbit. and over 500,000 active subscribers to the Internet service. Thousands more satellites are planned to be launched in the coming years.
“From my understanding, it’s a bit of the ‘Wild West’ out there right now, because there are currently no (or not many, if any) regulations around what companies like SpaceX and Amazon can do with satellite constellations,” Jorgenson said. “I think this is probably one of the most urgent ‘fronts’ for astronomers right now – working with governments to get regulations passed that will limit the detrimental effects of these satellites.”