Bright object witnessed above Pennsylvania was a SpaceX rocket carrying Starlink satellites

A luminous object seen in the sky over the weekend in Pennsylvania and several other East Coast states was not a comet or a UFO, as some witnesses have speculated. It was a rocket launched by SpaceX to launch another batch of Starlink satellites into orbit.

Photos and video of the object surfaced on social media after SpaceX launched the Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., around 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

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SpaceX’s Starlink mission aims to expand internet service to remote areas of the world and rural areas where internet connectivity is limited. The company began launching the satellites in 2019 and has sent 3,399 Starlink satellites into orbit, including prototypes and failed spacecraft. About 2,500 of the satellites are operational in low-Earth orbit, while another 500 are now moving into operational orbit, SpaceFlightNow reported.

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Starlink satellites travel across the sky in trains, typically at an altitude of about 335 miles, and can be seen from the ground in the right conditions. They often confuse people who don’t know about the project, whose network now spans more than 40 countries and territories.

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Saturday night’s launch marked SpaceX’s 43rd Starlink deployment this year, including another earlier this month observed on Sept. 5 in Pennsylvania.

The 229-foot-tall Falcon 9 rocket, seen in the sky Saturday, carried 52 Starlink satellites. SpaceX eventually plans to have 4,400 satellites in orbit as part of its initial deployment. The company’s Starlink mission is one of several similar projects — including Amazon’s Kuiper project, China’s Hongyan and OneWeb — aiming to expand internet access with satellites in low-Earth orbit.

Given the brightness of the satellites, some astronomers have expressed concerns that these constellations could disrupt space observation by reducing visibility. SpaceX has since started installing sunshades on its satellites to lower their brightness. The company plans to begin launching much larger Starlink Version 2 satellites next year, which will connect directly to smartphones as part of a partnership with T-Mobile to reduce dead spots.

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If you happened to catch a glimpse of the Falcon 9 rocket launch from the Delaware Valley, it wasn’t anything extraterrestrial. It was just a routine update of one of Elon Musk’s ambitious plans in space.