Unexpected, if not unidentified, flying objects startled some sky-watching North Queenslanders this week, with images of a long, thin object floating across the night sky trending on social media.

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But there’s a simple explanation, says an expert, that’s more about a rich earthling than visiting aliens.

Still, said John Blandford, from Mackay’s Northern Beaches, what he saw in the sky stopped him in his tracks.

“I see this long thing … and it appeared to have lights all the way along,” he said.

“It definitely wasn’t a plane. It wasn’t a satellite.

“I don’t do drugs or anything like that. What the hell is it?”

A grey cylindrical object pictured in the night sky

Jonti Horner, professor of astrophysics at University of Southern Queensland, knows what it’s not — a UFO piloted by intergalactic beings.

“UFO doesn’t mean aliens,” he said.

“It just means unidentified flying objects. 

“It’s something weird in the sky that people are seeing that they don’t have an immediate explanation for.”

Simple explanation for sighting

Professor Horner said a long, thin object was in all likelihood Starlink satellites orbiting in tight formation, a chain of dots so close they can look like a single object crossing the sky.

A series of lights in the sky.

Starlink is operated by tech billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX company, which last week expanded its man-made constellation with the launch of 53 satellites.

“They are essentially trying to deliver very expensive satellite internet for people worldwide,” Professor Horner said. 

“They’re launching these in big batches and so what you get for the few days after launch is a lot of satellites very close together, all equal and moving in line.

“That’s what we had at the end of last week.”

‘Wild west’ in space 

According to Professor Horner, as space use increases, so will the number of UFOs we will see. 

“Space is a bit like the wild west at the minute,” Professor Horner said. 

“Legislation just hasn’t kept up with the reality of how things are going.

“A lot of how we govern space is based on a treaty that was put together in 1967.”

Since then, Professor Horner said, our presence in space had gone “bonkers”.

“SpaceX are planning to launch up to 42,000 satellites and they don’t really need to ask permission,” he said. 

“They don’t have to do anything to tidy up and they don’t even have to tell people when they’re going to launch.”

Astrophysics professor Jonti Horner

A bit different to here on Earth.

“Quite often, particularly with launches from countries [of] nefarious secret spy satellites and things like that, they typically don’t advertise the fact they’re going to do it,” he said. 

In addition to more satellites going up, old satellites past their prime have been retired.

“There is enough junk up there that gets in the way of observations we make with telescopes with professional observatories,” Professor Horner said. 

“It’s already actually hindering our ability to find asteroids and comets that could threaten the Earth.”

This content was originally published here.