Why are Starlink "Racetrack" Flares [Mostly] Reported from Planes?

Now I'm pretty sure it's not Starlink as that's a very distinctive pattern and these don't move like satellites.
Two things to unpack:

... a very distinctive pattern

In other words they don't look like this.
Untitledstar.jpg
The word still hasn't gotten out that the classic Starlink train is evanescent. Only looks like this for a short time just after deployment.


... these don't move like satellites.
I'm not certain what this means but I suspect it's the noted optical illusion that makes them look like a car making a left turn. We've all seen distant headlights. We're primed to see the increase and decrease in brightness as a left turn. Coming in from space and turning out back into space.

This remains the most striking example I know of that left turn or circling illusion. But they are just getting brighter and dimmer.
 
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Source: https://www.reddit.com/r/UFOs/comments/19drzab/im_an_airline_pilot_and_i_saw_the_lights_on/


Last Friday on January 19th 2024 I finally saw “the lights” that have been reported multiple times by pilots on this sub and elsewhere in the news the last year or so. I was operating a commercial flight over the midwestern US and after hearing pilots discussing the lights on 121.5, I looked to the west and saw them too! While my sighting is not unique, I wanted to share my experience/observation for the sake of creating an additional data point to help reach an understanding of what this phenomenon is.

My sighting took place between 0214Z and 0245Z; 0914pm-0945pm eastern time while flying over Ohio and Indiana. We were at an altitude in the mid-FL300s heading west. The lights were observed at about a 260 degree heading, roughly 1-5 degrees above the horizon. During the 31 minutes I was able to see the lights, I probably saw 6-7 sequences of light(s) appear and fade out.

I could hear pilots talking about their observations and theories about the nature of these lights on the emergency frequency 121.5. (LiveATC Recording - chatter starts at 20m50s) “Starlink” was mentioned by more than one pilot as an explanation for what we were observing. (I’m curious how they were able to know it was a branded Starlink and not any of the thousands of other Satellites in orbit.) I admit, I know next to nothing about the orbit patterns of satellites and the optics of reflected sunshine. However, in my 15 years of flying, I have never observed satellites behaving as these lights did. Some sequences of lights came in pairs, others by themselves. The lights always began as a tiny point of light and increased to a peak luminosity of about the same as Planet Venus. From my vantage, I observed the lights moving in random trajectories. The lights' trajectories were inconsistent with the typical linear movement one typically observes when looking at a satellite passing overhead. These lights moved in arcs, curves, reversals in path and squiggle motions. On one sequence, I observed a singular light appear, rise up from the horizon at a speed I would estimate 3-5 times what would be normally observed when viewing a satellite passing overhead and then move in a cursive “u” pattern before then rising further away from the hoizon, moving again in the cursive “u” path, and then rising further up above the horizon before fading out. The speed at which the moved also apparent seemed to accelerate and decelerate. I have always observed satellites presenting themselves at the same luminosity as background stars (much dimmer than Venus or Jupiter) and moving in a straight linear path, crossing the sky at a speed I’ll call SU1 (Satellite Unit = 1). These lights were about the same brightness as Venus but moved at a speed I would “eyeball” to be three times SU1. Remember, I’m seeing these lights just above the horizon, and not passing overhead. I’m not going to do the math here, but considering that parallax, the movement of these lights on the horizon would be considerably faster than three times SU1.

I did not see any “Race Track” patterns which have been reported before.

I heard a female voice talking on 121.5, reporting to other pilots on guard that the lights she was observing were presenting at about at a 300 degree heading NW from Little Rock – the VOR I assume (25m20s in recording linked below). From our position over Ohio/Indiana we were viewing the lights at a 260 degree heading. Assuming we were seeing the same lights, our lines-of-sight would have been intersecting somewhere over Western Kansas, about 900 miles west of our position.

Because these lights were presenting themselves approximately over the spot on the horizon where the sun had set 3 hours earlier, I’m inclined to assume the source of the light I was seeing was the sun, reflecting off the object/satellite. I scanned the rest of the visible horizon from about 060-300 degrees during the 31 minutes we saw the lights and I didn’t see any other lights anywhere else in the sky, they were only in the 260-265 degree area of the sky, smack over where the sun had set hours prior.

But dammit if their random movement, fluctuations in velocity -- at times reaching speeds I’ve never observed didn’t confuse the hell out of me. Didn’t look like anything I’d ever seen before in over two decades of flying.

Thanks for reading and I’m happy to answer any questions regarding the lights.

Here’s a link to the archived Emergency Frequency 121.5 recorded near the Memphis, TN area. Skip to 20m50s to start hearing bits and pieces of pilot conversation concerning the lights.

https://archive.liveatc.net/kmem/KMEM2-Guard-Jan-20-2024-0200Z.mp3


Sitrec for the time and date of the sighting:
https://www.metabunk.org/u/lS5Mvh.html
 
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OP being a little shy about which plane but the details are

flying at 35000 ft
for hours as we flew west over Canada.
Time was 02:00Z Jan 29, seen while flying over Kenora Canada

So I think POE309 most likely but maybe DAT514, of course have had cases that overlapped midnight where the day was wrong etc, so probably we need to orginal video or absolute flight number confirmation.

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That is for 19 Jan, the OP stated the was 29 Jan.
Oops, I'm getting old.

There are five easily detectable stars in the video. The brightest one being Markab (mid left), then in the upper right there's four from Pegasus. We can't tell exactly where the horizon is but it's above the city lights. We see the position of the flare region relative to those stars, and the horizon. This alone give a little info about the location, time and date. I think the pilot is just ballparking the time and location, and the date might well be the 28th or the 29th.
2024-01-29_07-49-18.jpg
 
https://www.ctvnews.ca/sci-tech/ufo...le-formation-over-canadian-prairies-1.6748300


Pilots describe 'bizarre' lights and 'triangles' over Canada in air traffic control audio​

Early on Jan. 19, several pilots reported "multiple lights sometimes in a triangle formation(opens in a new tab)" high above the Canadian Prairies.

"I had a company aircraft over Thunder Bay suggest, he thinks it possibly could be satellites," an air traffic controller in Winnipeg told aviators around 4:45 am local time, according to audio obtained by CTVNews.ca.

"I'm certainly no expert, but they're moving side-to-side and then going away from each other and then forming triangles," an Air Canada pilot from Seattle to Winnipeg replied while flying over Saskatchewan. "That doesn't really seem like they're in any type of orbit. But I mean, I'm no expert."

"Yeah, it's quite bizarre," a pilot on a nearby Flair Airlines flight from Vancouver to Toronto added. "There's around six of them just randomly in formation flying at a high altitude at 12 o'clock."

"Definitely not satellites," a pilot on a Morningstar Air Express cargo flight from Calgary to Toronto interjected. "It's unlike anything I've ever seen in the 15 years of night flying that I've done."

You can listen to their conversation here.

The 13-minute clip was culled from 2.5 hours of raw audio downloaded from two feeds at LiveATC.net(opens in a new tab), a website that streams and archives air traffic control radio. Edited for length, the original conversations between pilots and air traffic controllers took place from approximately 4:20 a.m. to 6 a.m. CST.

"There's no active airspace, military airspace, anything like that we're aware of," an air traffic controller said on Jan. 19. "I honestly have no idea what that might be."

At least four aircraft reported seeing the lights that morning, including Flair and Morningstar jets, and two Air Canada flights. They estimated the lights were well above them, as high as 100,000 feet (30,480 metres), which is beyond the reach of most fighter jets. Two other crews also chimed in to say they've recently had similar sightings over Canada.

"I haven't seen them tonight, but we've been seeing those lights for probably the last 18 months or so, just for your information," a pilot on a Cargojet flight from Hamilton, Ont. to Winnipeg reported.

"Wow, that's interesting," a WestJet pilot flying from Winnipeg to Toronto replied. "I've had it but only ever going westbound, with three or four like that over the last month or so."

"I've never seen them eastbound, only westbound," the Cargojet pilot added. "And yeah, same thing too: movement all over, sometimes they make a triangle, sometimes they make a diamond and square. They're bright and they just appear all over."

"Sure be nice to get answers on that, for sure," another pilot said.
https://www.ctvnews.ca/sci-tech/ufo...le-formation-over-canadian-prairies-1.6748300
Content from External Source

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgbNKOK7lr4

Sitrec: https://www.metabunk.org/u/XdEuBm.html

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First Aircraft MorningStar 7062 (A FedEx plane) was here at the time of the CADORS report. Flight KML is attached.
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What is interesting in the latest video and recording of pilots/ATC is the subtle change in language used to describe the Starlink flares.....

MorningStar 7062:
I mean it's hard to it's hard to say but yeah it's being like three to four really bright lights and they kind of were in like a triangle formation and then it look like they're a little dimmer for bit and then they disappear and then they come back

A few minutes later the ATC asks are they seeing any flashing lights
this is a strange question but are you seeing any flashing lights ahead at high altitude we just got a report from another aircraft we don't see anything yet - they reported them as north of Yankee Whiskey Golf (Winnipeg) uh which is the city off your 11:00 position for about 90 miles so I guess just let me know if you see anything

So now the pilots are looking for flashing lights and describing the Starlink flares as 'flashing' which we know they don't do. And of course this plays into the hands of the pro-UFO fans who use this as an argument against Starlink.
 
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Seems like a bit of 'broken telephone' the 1st report is a more wordy but detailed description and accurate of the starlink pattern an increase in brightness then fade over a few seconds, not flashing (like say an aircraft strobe) the second is an attempt to succinctly convey what they are looking for but the term is not accurate as the person has not actually seen what the person is reporting.
 
Wouldn't it be in the best interest of the FAA / other country equivalent to address and train on ID of these sat flares? They seem pretty distracting to pilots.

I know these commercial airliners fly themselves but I don't want my pilot messing around with their phone trying to film these things.
 
Wouldn't it be in the best interest of the FAA / other country equivalent to address and train on ID of these sat flares? They seem pretty distracting to pilots.

I know these commercial airliners fly themselves but I don't want my pilot messing around with their phone trying to film these things.
Why can't the flight schedule be accompanied with a notice telling them there's a decent chance of flares at a range of bearings during an interval of time, and that it's just satellites and nothing to worry about? That could be done automatically, it doesn't even require human effort.
 
Why can't the flight schedule be accompanied with a notice telling them there's a decent chance of flares at a range of bearings during an interval of time, and that it's just satellites and nothing to worry about? That could be done automatically, it doesn't even require human effort.
I'd thought this myself, but NOTAMs tend to alert pilots if things to be worried about, not about things to ignore. There's a risk that if you tell a pilot to ignore any weird lights that eventually one day the lights will be an actual plane that poses a genuine collision risk.

I think the message is getting through to aircrew. In a recent post on pprune a pilot said he was messing with the cabin crew by inviting them into the cockpit showing them the UFOs. They were very relieved when he explained they were just satellites :p

https://www.pprune.org/11589692-post147.html
 
New Guy Questions (I apologize)

1) Is there a range for sun altitude for flaring to occur? More specifically is there a top/bottom altitude range? -40 seems to be a re-occurring theme but it looks like it can be as high as near -50 based on some of the posts here.
2) What is the relationship between the pilot's altitude and observing the flare? Is there a minimum altitude that allows the pilot/observer to enter the reflection portion of the flare rather than the low-light scatter?
3) Is there general rule-of-thumb that correlates the brightness magnitude with sun altitude, observer location, observer altitude, etc?

Sorry to ask so many questions. I can see some answers buried in different threads but cant pull out a definitive answer.
Thanks for any direction.
 
New Guy Questions (I apologize)

1) Is there a range for sun altitude for flaring to occur? More specifically is there a top/bottom altitude range? -40 seems to be a re-occurring theme but it looks like it can be as high as near -50 based on some of the posts here.
2) What is the relationship between the pilot's altitude and observing the flare? Is there a minimum altitude that allows the pilot/observer to enter the reflection portion of the flare rather than the low-light scatter?
3) Is there general rule-of-thumb that correlates the brightness magnitude with sun altitude, observer location, observer altitude, etc?

Sorry to ask so many questions. I can see some answers buried in different threads but cant pull out a definitive answer.
Thanks for any direction.

This diagram explains the mechanism of the flare phenomenon pretty well. It shows that the brightest flares will be at the center of the spectrally reflected ray - which will mean that they tend to be brighter when seen from aircraft.

1707329239764.png

This is a version of the diagram that I did where I tried to calculate the angles based on a satellite orbit height of 550km. This means that the flare will be the brightest when the sun is at 46 degrees below the angle of the satellite when seen by the observer.

1707329390561.png

This is a 3d model of the diagram above in Google Earth, it shows that the satellites are about 2000km when they flare.

1707388963357.png

This images shows a time laps of starlink flares and illustrates that there is a sweet-spot where the flares are brightest. Some satellites will miss the sweetspot so won't flare as brightly as the ones that do.

1707329584270.png

And this is a great video that shows how the position of the starlink flares moves up as the earth rotates and the suns relative position to the observer changes in the pre-dawn sky.

 
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this NUFORC report was recently highlighted on Reddit. The full text of the report is below, but the link includes four videos that look suspiciously like Starlink flares. Pilot was pretty adamant that this was not Starlink or satellites.

https://nuforc.org/sighting/?id=178702

Occurred: 2023-10-03 02:50 Local
Reported: 2023-10-06 05:14 Pacific
Duration: 30 min
No of observers: 2

Location: Boston, MA, USA

Shape: Circle
Characteristics: Lights on object, Aura or haze around object

Airline pilot - Lights high in sky ahead and above coming in and out

Airline Capt for major US carrier. 25 yrs airline, 28 years USAF (they overlap). Flying to Europe from NY, 50ish miles before Boston at 35000' heading 060 deg I notice a light ahead and above come into view, grow very bright, looked to move right and down then dim till gone. Then another one, or the same one, appears, grows bright, and dims as it moves away. I noticed this for several minutes before pointing it out to my first officer (highly experienced and also ex-military). Lights were not consistent - sometimes one followed by another then another, sometimes 2 or 3 at once, sometimes movement from left to right was pronounced. This went on for approx 20 min. I have several videos (taken with phone).

NOT starlink, not other satellites, not a planet, not space station, not ships at sea - we both know what all of those look like and we both agreed that this was not any of those. Only possibility is military aircraft. Problem with that is 1) lights were very bright and came on dim to bright to dim which aircraft lighting is set (just on bright); 2) white lights NOT green/red navigation lights or strobes; 3) the light looked very similar to how airliners look as we come in to land - with our gear down, landing lights and nose gear lights on. No aircraft has their landing gear out at 35000' plus; 4) We both felt that the objects were 10000 or more above us. VERY high for even military activity.

For videos - 1) you will see venus (?) in lower right corner. Bright. Not what I am talking about. 2) The perspective from the videos makes them look lower than us, but we both watched them and were sure these objects were above us and by a lot. Not sure why it appears that way.

-City in video is Boston
-Bright light on right edge is a planet
-No moon, no clouds (video quality makes it appear there is low clouds - no)
-Very few stars out except if you looked very high and to the north
-Objects in question are in middle/middle high of videos

Edit: Someone on Reddit has used Sitrec to confirm that the pilots probably saw starlink.... (@Mick West - your work here is done ;))


Source: https://www.reddit.com/r/UFOs/comments/1am1tvm/comment/kpjms0w/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x&context=3
 
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Nice. Just crossing some Ts:

2024-02-08_15-51-02.jpg

Puts them here:2024-02-08_15-53-15.jpg

Which is where UAL 161 was at 06:53UTC (2:53 Eastern Daylight, local time)
2024-02-08_15-56-50.jpg
 
Accurate TLEs from space-track.org and 3 Oct 2023 if you wanna use them.
 

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Airline Capt for major US carrier. 25 yrs airline, 28 years USAF (they overlap). Flying to Europe from NY, 50ish miles before Boston at 35000' heading 060 deg I notice a light ahead and above come into view, grow very bright, looked to move right and down then dim till gone. Then another one, or the same one, appears, grows bright, and dims as it moves away. I noticed this for several minutes before pointing it out to my first officer (highly experienced and also ex-military).

NOT starlink, not other satellites, not a planet, not space station, not ships at sea - we both know what all of those look like and we both agreed that this was not any of those.
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This is a great example of how even highly trained military pilots can misinterpret things they have not seen before.
 
The last video on the NUFORC report briefly captures the aircraft clock showing 0655 GMT/Z at the 1m40s point. (Although I think this is the first video that was actually recorded)

1707474750959.png

Which would make these two flares about a minute earlier 0654Z.
1707474943952.png
 
It's a bit annoying, as Sitrec predicts more flares, but only two at most are visible. Note that only Venus is visible, no stars

The magnitudes that Sitrec calculate assume perfect alignment, which isn't guaranteed. So the bright flares that are visible in the video might not be the brightest in Sitrec.
 
As George Box said "All models are wrong, some are useful". Sitrec doesnt take into account every single variable satellite parameter, nor does it factor in the camera performance & settings, but it has at least, in this case and many others, shown that the flares where there, in the exact spot that that the pilots saw them.
 
Sitrec doesnt take into account every single variable satellite parameter, nor does it factor in the camera performance & settings
Presumably high altitude clouds could also result in fewer flares (and stars!) being seen? (If present, and as high as or higher than the plane, of course.) If patchy, you'd maybe see some flares/stars but others would be obscured. If thin, you might see the brightest but not the less bright.
 
Another pilot on Reddit unsure of what they saw...
I’ve been seeing these type of lights on an every night basis for the last 1.5 - 2 years, from Cancun all the way to Canada, sometimes for several hundred miles. Oddly they usually appear to the West or to the East.
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Quite amazing they have been seeing them for over a year and still don't know what they are.
 
I just came across this video on YouTube, sounds like another Starlink sighting.



Just curious, do you have anything in front of us, about 50 to 60 miles? [...] Something just went from right to left to right in a blink and then flashed its lights three or four times and vanished. [...] This thing went like 180 degrees in like a second. [...] The thing just literally went from one coast to the other in front of us and then it went up like 30 degrees, turned off its lights or whatever it had. Looked like a bright orange-y thing. [...] I would say probably 60 to 80 miles in front of us and it looks like it's coming, I don't know. It's flashing towards us. It's just this bright orange going on and off.
Parts of the pilot-side transmissions didn't get recorded but apparently they later specified the lights as being at around 50,000 ft, 1 o'clock position.

The video has no date but from the data that's on screen it looks like it was captured on Jan 2 at around 0140Z, or Jan 1 8:40 pm local.

b.jpg
a.jpg

1 o'clock off the plane's nose is almost exactly due west, which is where the Sun was at that time, 35 degrees below the horizon (this is nearby Easthampton, MA).

c.jpg

Might be one for Sitrec.

EDIT: I attached that flight's KML.
 

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Parts of the pilot-side transmissions didn't get recorded but apparently they later specified the lights as being at around 50,000 ft, 1 o'clock position.

The video has no date but from the data that's on screen it looks like it was captured on Jan 2 at around 0140Z, or Jan 1 8:40 pm local.
Using your KML, at at that there's a while bunch of them at the 1 o'clock position (i.e. just to the right of the plane's heading.

https://www.metabunk.org/u/zkuUEJ.html
2024-02-11_12-44-08.jpg
 
Another NUFORC sighting report by pilots:

https://nuforc.org/sighting/?id=180290 (includes video and cockpit chat)

Occurred: 2024-02-05 04:55 Local
Reported: 2024-02-05 10:50 Pacific
Duration: ~ 60 minutes
No of observers: 3 - Pilot

Location: Omaha, NE, USA
Location details: Flying at FL390 then FL410 approaching Omah on a part 135 flight from KVNY to KTEB w/ 2 pax & 3 crew

Shape: Light
Color: white
Estimated Size: unk
Viewed From: Aircraft
Direction from Viewer: East
Angle of Elevation: 34
Closest Distance: 50-100 nm
Estimated Speed: > 1000


Flying to the East at 39,000 saw 6 UFO's at diff speeds, altitudes (btn 50, and 80 thousand feet) for ~ 1 hr

We’re flying a challenger 601 from Van Nuys, California to Teterboro New Jersey we were flight level 390 and quickly moved to flight level 410. We saw six UFOs at different times and together at different altitudes different spacing, different speeds, and they were just white lights no identifiable markings, and the distance was indeterminable but somewhere between 50 to 100 miles ahead of us and we saw them we were approaching Omaha Nebraska, and again we saw him for about another hour. Tried recording video with a DJI action 2 camera. Due to operator error (aiming) or Distance involved, no helpful video, only voice description.
https://nuforc.org/sighting/?id=180290
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Looks like it was this aircraft.... N601BE. It departed Van Nuys at 07.39Z and landed Teterboro 1225Z.

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Sitrec Checked: https://www.metabunk.org/u/Zdmsmc.html

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I’ve been seeing these type of lights on an every night basis for the last 1.5 - 2 years, from Cancun all the way to Canada, sometimes for several hundred miles. Oddly they usually appear to the West or to the East.
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Quite amazing they have been seeing them for over a year and still don't know what they are.
If they've been telling themselves, quite insistently, that it's not Starlink or satellites every time, then they'll never reach the right conclusion.
And *yet again* we see an insistent "it's not X" without *any* explanation of what is not X-like that could lead to the rejection of X as a possibility.
 
It's hard to get an insider view, it could be a lot of pilots see them and think "probably satellites" and are not bothered by them and those "reporting them and saying defo not satellites" are UFO fans who want to believe.

It is odd though you'd think if this were being seen by lots of pilots and there was no actual guidance on it, it would a bigger issue and thus solved because it would have "gotten serious"

I wonder if we could do some sort of rough calculation as to what percentage of flights have a chance of seeing them.
 
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