Satellite-spotting is one of my favorite sub-fields in the wide pursuit of amateur astronomy. It’s always amazing to watch a ‘star’ sliding silently through the twilight sky, only to realize you’re seeing a human-made artifact of the modern Space Age.
I always make a point to print out a list of satellite passes for an upcoming star party, and I find that folks are often more amazed to witness the International Space Station passing overhead than anything they can see at the eyepiece.
Where can you get said predictions? Of the myriad satellite tracking platforms available today, my favorite is Chris Peat’s Heavens-Above. An astronomy-themed site focused primarily on satellite tracking, Heavens-Above launched back in the late 1990s. Strange to think: I first started using Heavens-Above to predict passes of Mir over our backyard in northern Italy.
Heavens-Above has kept up with the times, and now offers a great smartphone app available for Android (Google Play). The free version is a great application to use in the field, and there’s a paid $4.99 USD version that runs without ads as well. Unfortunately, the app isn’t yet available for iPhone.
The app gives you an all-sky view, and shows the current live position of satellites in the sky for your current location against the background layout of stars, planets and constellations. You can also custom search the catalog for objects by Space-Track catalog identification number, or simply plan a night’s worth of satellite-tracking by listing out dusk and dawn passes.
We’ve used this app extensively in the field, and can attest to its accuracy. There’s even a handy red light filter mode, and the database routinely updates to depict high-interest objects such as SpaceX Starlink satellite trains and missions to and from the International Space Station.
It’s just amazing to use the app see what’s up there, on a given evening. Be sure to download the new Heavens-Above app for your next night out under the stars.