Observing Satellites from Home
While most stargazers typically observe various natural phenomena happening in space, some of you may be interested in watching manmade objects up there. Entire groups are dedicated towards the amateur observation of satellites. While this sort of behavior might be unlawful in some jurisdictions, there are plenty of people who look up every night and try to catch a glimpse of something put into orbit on purpose.
Good Resource: http://www.satobs.org/satintro.html
Chances are that most people have seen satellites by accident and never even realized it. People sometimes look up at the evening sky and see what appear to be points of light moving through the darkness at a constant speed. These are actually artificial satellites. Countless satellites are visible to the naked idea, and there are even more that are visible to those with simple telescopes.
Space junk is particularly interesting. When the Centaur launch vehicle was still in service, some amateur astronomers were actually able to track spent rocket stages before they reentered the atmosphere. While litter might be a serious problem for space agencies to deal with, it makes for some interesting viewing nonetheless.
Tracking objects that move rapidly takes real skill, and some objects are extremely hard to get a fix on. Astronomers have said that Vanguard 1 presents a unique challenge. By most accounts, Vanguard 1 is the oldest artificial satellite still in orbit. Amateurs feel that trying to spot it can be just as hard as trying to spot a distant galaxy. For some people, this makes the challenge that much more alluring. Jaded stargazers might want to try their hand at spotting it. There are plenty of sites that can aid individuals in finding these objects.
Few individuals are lucky enough to have a background in orbital elements, but those that are can calculate positions for themselves. Others could have a look at tracking software that automates these calculations. In either case, anyone who tries his or her hand at the practice will surely learn a little about the exploration of space first-hand. Most stargazers just read what others have written about the topic. Anyone who wants the opportunity to visit a launch pad could be much closer than they ever imagined.
Image Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency
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