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Hey, What’s That Satellite Overhead?

8 Aug 2013, 12:50 UTC
Hey, What’s That Satellite Overhead?
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These handy websites and smartphone apps eliminate the guesswork.

We used to have to know things. Now we have smartphones.
Let’s say I’m standing in my backyard on a clear night, and I notice a bright planet about to set in the west, just over the fence. Jupiter or Saturn? With the naked eye it’s hard to tell, at least for me. But point the Google Sky phone app at the mystery dot, and I know in seconds. Jupiter. Thanks.
We should be astonished at such fact-finding power, but we rarely are. Maybe that’s because web- and phone-based tools for identifying what’s in the sky overhead are becoming more common at the same time as they’re getting easier to use. And most of them are free. NASA just released a nifty Interactive Satellite Viewer, for example, that shows you the current positions of its Earth- and space-pointing spacecraft. It’s similar to other online satellite trackers that have been around for a while, but it’s nicely done.
Even cooler are the smartphone apps that use augmented reality to display the positions of satellites wherever and whenever you happen to be looking. These include Sat Tracker for Layar and — even easier ...

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