New Starlink satellites will be 'low and bright' over UK tonight – best time to see Elon Musk probes launched yesterday

BRIT stargazer are bracing for another dazzling satellite display this evening – the fourth over the UK this week.

The super-bright "Starlink" satellites are operated by US rocket company SpaceX and will produce what could be their most spectacular showing so far on Thursday night.

Following awe-inspiring appearances on Monday and Tuesday (and a bit of a damp squib on Wednesday) we've got all the tips you need to catch tonight's display.

All you'll need is a smartphone and a bit of outdoor space, as the satellites are so bright that you don't need a telescope or binoculars to see them.

What is Starlink?

Starlink is a controversial scheme that aims to beam Wi-Fi to people from space using a "mega constellation" of thousands of satellites.

“With performance that far surpasses that of traditional satellite internet … Starlink will deliver high speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable,” the official website explains.

The project is the brainchild of tech billionaire Elon Musk, whose California-based rocket firm SpaceX builds and operates the satellites.

More than 420 have been launched so far, with the network eventually set to reach 12,000, rising to as many as 42,000 in the future.

SpaceX sends its satellites up in batches of 60 at a time. Each group is launched atop an unmanned Falcon 9 rocket built by SpaceX.

The solar-powered tech typically orbits around 340 miles above Earth.

How the probes will affect the night sky is causing concern as they sit in a low orbit, so appear brighter than stars and planets.

When is tonight's Starlink show?

Keen satellite-watchers can catch two Starlink displays over the UK tonight.

The first is expected to pass by at 8:54pm BST, lasting for roughly four minutes.

As many as 20 satellites could soar past in that short period, each looking a little like a sluggish shooting star without its tail.

For the early risers among you, a second display will last for six minutes from 5:14am.

The satellites are so bright that you won't need binoculars or a telescope to see them.

It goes without saying that your best chance of catching a display requires clear skies and as little light around you as possible.

Try not to stare at your phone too much and turn off outside lights to dampen the effects of light pollution.

Be warned that Starlink satellites can be up to ten minutes "late".

How to track Starlink satellites in real-time

Not sure where to look? Your phone's got you covered.

There are a number of stargazing apps you can use to follow the path of Starlink probes.

On the Apple App Store, we'd recommend Night Sky, which is free and helps you find all kinds of celestial wonders.

For Android fans, Satellite Tracker should do the trick (it's also available on iPhone).

Simply head outside at one of the scheduled Starlink times above, load up one of the apps and you should be able to spot one.

Alternatively, you can visit the Find Starlink website (or the “Find Starlink Satellites” app) and enter your location.

Why are Starlink satellites appearing over the UK and why are they so bright this evening?

According to space experts, the current high rate of sightings is due to the satellites being in low orbit after they first launch.

SpaceX launches Starlink satellites in batches of 60 before they gradually rise to a higher orbit and become less visible.

The satellites have been deliberately designed to be light and compact so they can be launched in large batches.

The most recent batch was fired into space on Wednesday, following another liftoff in mid-March.

And it's for this reason that this evening's showing is expected to be particualrly bright.

At roughly 8.54pm BST, the newest batch of 60 Starlink satellites will pass over the UK.

As they've only just been launched, they'll be closer to the Earth than normal, which should make them more visible.

Equally, the satellites won't have begun to space out yet, meaning you should be able to catch dozens of them in a row – if you're lucky.

Recent Starlink sightings

The satellites have now graced the skies over Britain four nights in a row.

The first took place on Sunday night at around 9:20pm BST, the second on Monday at 9.55pm, a third at 8:30pm on Tuesday and a fourth on Wednesday at around 9.34pm.

Brits took to social media to express their delight at the rare events, which are due to continue throughout this week.

One Twitter user wrote this week: "Absolutely amazing to see @SpaceX Starlink satellites fly around our world."

Another said on Tuesday: "@elonmusk just stood watching the #starlink show over the UK. Last night was a disappointment, tonight was awesome."

Reports of sightings were spread across the UK, with users in London, Manchester and Leeds among those taking to social media to report seeing the craft.

Some people have even compared the dazzling satellites to UFOs.

"These starlink satellites in the uk are terrifying me those m****r f****rs looking like UFOS," one Twitter user frothed.

Another quipped: "I’m seeing the #Starlink satellites but they’re going off in different directions. Not a straight formation. Unless these are UFOs."

Is Starlink 'blocking' the night sky?

The Starlink programme is controversial among astronomers, who have slammed Musk's hare-brained scheme.

They say Starlink gets in the way of observations due to light reflected off the the satellites.

University of Western Ontario meteor researcher Denis Vida stated in a blog post last year: "One has to be concerned how will our skies look like when hearing that there are plans to launch a total of 42,000 satellites.

"This might completely deny us to do any optical meteor observations as soon as 2024."

Never one to take something lying down, Musk has lashed back at his critics, claiming the satellites have no such impact.

Speaking at a conference in Washington DC last month, he said: "I am confident that we will not cause any impact whatsoever in astronomical discoveries. Zero. That’s my prediction.

"We’ll take corrective action if it’s above zero."

SpaceX engineers are also said to be looking into making the satellites a bit less shiny so they won't reflect the sun as much.

Will Starlink 'trap' humanity on Earth?

There are concerns that humanity could be trapped on Earth by too much space junk in Earth's orbit.

That's according to one space scientist, who says Starlink could create an impenetrable wall of rubbish around our planet.

A catastrophic clutter of space debris left behind by the satellites could block rockets from leaving Earth, an effect known as "Kessler syndrome".

"The worst case is: You launch all your satellites, you go bankrupt, and they all stay there," European Space Agency scientist Dr Stijn Lemmens told Scientific American.

"Then you have thousands of new satellites without a plan of getting them out of there. And you would have a Kessler-type of syndrome."

It will take thousands of years for any SpaceX satellites left in our orbit to descend to Earth and burn up in the atmosphere.

The firm says it's already taken steps to avoid cluttering up the region. It's launching the satellites into a lower orbital plane than most space tech to avoid collisions.

How do satellite-tracking apps work?

Companies and space agencies who manage satellites need to keep track of where they are in orbit.

This is partly to help operations (be that sending GPS signals or snapping space photos) run smoothly, but it also ensures they can change course if their probe is about to collide with someone else's.

The position of satellites is recorded by multiple ground stations on Earth, which send the coordinates back to whoever is responsible for them.

Robert Frost, specialist on GPS use for space navigation, wrote on Quora: "The locations of satellites are determined using tracking from ground stations.

"The ground stations use mechanisms such as radar, signal doppler, and laser reflectors to pinpoint the position of a satellite and to maintain an understanding of its orbital elements."

Apart from spy satellites and other secretive tech, the coordinates of most space probes are available publicly.

Satellite tracking apps simply compile data offered by dozens of space agencies and companies and present it on a digital map.

In other news, Brits grabbed snaps of Starlink satellites passing over the UK on Wednesday.

Here's the best way to track Starlink satellites as they soar across the night sky.

And, Nasa astronauts will launch into space from US soil next month for the first time in nearly a decade.

Do you plan on catching a Starlink display this week? Let us know in the comments!

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