Observing satellites

Can I see satellites from Earth?

Yes! You can see satellites for the same reason we can see the Moon and planets – they reflect light from the Sun

What can I see?

International Space Station
Credit: NASA/Crew of STS-132

The International Space Station (ISS) is the biggest artificial satellite orbiting the Earth. It’s also the brightest. Its brightness varies depending on how much sunlight it reflects. Sometimes it looks as bright as the planet Venus!

When you spot the ISS, it looks like a star moving as fast as an aeroplane. The ISS travels at over 27,000 km per hour and orbits the Earth 15 times a day. The ISS has been in orbit since 1998 and usually has six astronauts on board, from all over the world.

The company SpaceX started launching Starlink satellites in May 2019. The Starlink project aims to provide internet across the whole world by using over 12,000 satellites. The Starlink satellites are launched in batches arranged in a chain. When a batch is first released, the satellites are close together. This makes it easy to spot them parading in a line across the sky. Over time, they drift apart and are harder to spot. Many astronomers worry light pollution from satellites could make it harder to observe objects in space. SpaceX made some changes to their satellites to try and reduce their brightness.

How do I spot them?

You can visit spot the station to find out when and where you can next see the International Space Station.  This website helps you find Starlink. Many astronomy apps and software include options to help you spot artificial satellites. For example Heavens Above or Stellarium.