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Naked-Eye Observing - Artificial Satellites

Orbiting the Earth are hundreds of satellites. These are communication satellites, military satellites, scientific satellites, Iridium satellites and so on. They are easier to photograph than meteors because they are easily tracked; their paths are predicted. Be careful not to confuse these with meteors - they do move a bit slower and have no trailing like a meteor.

Find a quiet place in your back yard and stare up at the stars. A satellite is sure to cross the sky, and it is easily seen as long as you keep looking! An object that looks like a faint star will move fairly rapidly across the sky. If there are blinking lights, its an airplane - but if its just a steady dot moving across, chances are you just seen a satellite.

There is a website dedicated to tracking these satellites, found here: http://celestrak.com/NORAD/elements/

Two additional resources to determine visibility and location of a satellite (as well as a host of other events):

  • Heavens-Above - an online ephemeris with a simple interface
  • CalSKY - another online ephemeris with an extensive list of events

You will have to register to get specific data from your location, but the process is benign.

 

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