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OPINION: Look up! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s … Starlink?

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Michael Janssen peered into the night sky over central Sarnia shortly before Christmas and spotted something very strange indeed.

It was clear, around 7 p.m.

“There were lights in the sky. It looked like they were connected, four lights in a row. They were moving,” he said. “Then they disappeared.”

Janssen considered the possibilities: aircraft flying in formation, laser pointers, even mirrors.

“I thought they might be stars but they weren’t stars,” he said.

“I was weirded out.”

That same evening residents in London, Ont. reported seeing a line of lights moving together through the clear night sky, which set social media abuzz.

A few wags suggested it was Santa Claus on a reconnaissance flight. Others believed they had seen a genuine UFO. It took an astronomer at Western University’s Observatory to provide the explanation — Starlink.

If you haven’t heard of Starlink before you will very soon.

Starlink is an entire constellation of satellites currently under construction at SpaceX, the private U.S. company founded by the brilliant if unpredictable Elon Musk.

Using its own reusable Falcon 9 rocket, the company launched a second batch of 60 small satellites into earth orbit on Nov. 11.

Skygazers who have seen them say they look like a string of pearls moving across the night sky.

What SpaceX is building is a global broadband Internet service for people anywhere on earth, without the limitations of ground infrastructure.

But here’s the kicker. Those 120 satellites are just the beginning. SpaceX intends frequent rocket launches, perhaps one every few weeks, until a network of 12,000 satellites is whizzing around our planet.

To put that in perspective, just 8,400 commercial, military and communication satellites have ever been launched, and fewer than 2,000 are still operational today.

What’s more, SpaceX has filed paperwork with the International Telecommunication Union to launch another 30,000 satellites. In addition to the 12,000 approved already.

Not everyone is happy about it, either. Many astronomers fear the coming swarm of Starlink satellites in low-earth orbit will be bright enough to interfere with ground-based telescopes and alter the appearance of the starry night sky.

Why, they ask, is a single private corporation allowed to pollute the visible heavens for profit?

Michael Janssen may be the first Sarnian to have spotted the early pieces of a new global communication system, but he won’t be the last.

SpaceX claims if everything goes well Starlink will be operational in parts of Canada and the U.S. as early as this year, with near global coverage by 2021.


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