ere’s a neat little game. You’ll remember in my last blog how I spotted a booster in orbit and used time and position to figure out what it was. Well, this game can be played backwards.
You can go to this site, Heavens Above, and get all the information about current debris lofting over your rooftop. If you click on a row, you’ll get a nice map that shows exactly when that vehicle will cross, time, location, everything. If you pick an hour or two after sunset, you’ll get a brilliant contrast, the item still in sunlight, the sky black behind it.
To try this, I looked through tonight’s passings and found the Spot 3 rocket booster. As part of a French mission launched out of French Guiana in 1993, this chunk has been floating about for a quarter century now. So I went out with my binoculars, a blanket to lay on and a pillow to prop with, and an battery alarm clock with a glowing face. Sirius (really easy to find) at 8:06. Got focused up about two minutes before go time and settled in.
Unlike plane- and train-spotting, orbitals don’t run late. At 8:06 on the dot, this thing rose into view, bright and unmistakable. I tracked him as he went right overhead, all the way. And that was really cool.
So if you want to put a mission into your astronomy, try to catch orbiting targets as they make their pass. It’s a great deal of fun!
Note – this site is lined up for Orlando. If you are somewhere else, you should be able to click on the Heavens Above icon to return to the main page where you can set your location. Then, click “Greater Predictions for Brighter Satellites” and you should be in business!