6 Tools to Help You Spot a Satellite

Created by a high school student, Stuff in Space shows satellites, rocket bodies and other debris as an interactive map. Stuff in Space

Earth is at the center of a crowded bubble, full of artificial satellites. The term includes any man-made object orbiting Earth. A recent count cites 1,305 working satellites in orbit, and there are estimated to be nearly as many defunct ones trapped in orbit. It’s a far cry from the pristine skies experienced by Sputnik I, the first satellite.

NASA puts the number of orbital debris larger than 10 cm at more than 21,000 items, as of March 2012. NASA and other agencies monitor that debris because of the inherent danger to spacecraft, but their work is also helpful to any aspiring satellite hunter. There are resources to show you where to look overhead as well as maps that can offer information about everything above you. Here are some useful options:

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Line of Sight: Created by artist and engineer Patricio Gonzalez Vivo, Line of Sight is a searchable map that shows the positions and the orbits of thousands of satellites. You can plug in your city and find out what is overhead in real time. When you click on an orbital path, the site lists information about the object, including whether or not it's visible to the naked eye.

Satellite FlyBys: This site, created by SpaceWeather, tells you where certain objects are and when to view them. While it’s not a comprehensive list of all of the satellites, it does tell you where to look for some of the most famous objects in space like the Hubble, the International Space Station and a few spy satellites.

This is every active satellite orbiting Earth: Created in 2014 by Quartz’s David Yanofsky and Tim Fernholz, this interactive infographic elegantly arranges the current active satellites based on their orbits. Hover over any satellite to learn its origins, purpose, operator and launch date. The graphic is fueled by data provided by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Stuff in Space: This visualization of satellites and orbital debris was created by high school student James Yoder. The 3-D model shows satellites, rocket bodies and other debris as an interactive map. Stuff in Space pulls information from Space Track, which is used by the government to track orbital debris.

people stargazing
There's so much to look for in the night's sky, other than stars. AstroStar/Shutterstock

There are also apps that can assist in your search for satellites.

SkyView Satellite Guide: Terminal Eleven’s app, available on iOS, has several features for both finding and learning about operational satellites and space junk. It has an interactive map and an augmented reality view, so you can hold your phone up to the sky and see which satellites are above you.

Star Walk: Along with star maps, this popular stargazing app by Vito Technologies includes information on several satellites. Star Walk is available for iOS, Android, Kindle Fire and Windows Phone.

With these resources, it's easy to add satellite hunter to your resume.

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