Using Jtrack 3D

We like to use Jtrack 3D (written by the nice folks at NASA) to tell us when a satellite is going to pass overhead, then visually track it in the night sky just after sunset.

All you have to do is fire up Jtrack 3D and use your mouse to drag the earth around until you are looking directly down at your home town. Then zoom in with Shift Click. Now look for any satellites (the little white spots that move across your screen) passing nearby. In this picture you can see I clicked on a satellite and it told me it's name, FalconSat, and showed it's orbital path, (the red line) but it shows that FalconSat won't be passing over Portland, so I keep looking...

I clicked on another one that appeared to be nearby and it turned out to be an Iridium, #41 to be specific. The orbital path shows it is passing just off the coast of Oregon, so if I look to the North and West, I may see it passing to the South. We like to watch Iridiums for a number of reasons. For one, you might be lucky enough to see an Iridium Flare. Also, Iridiums follow one another on the same path, so if you spot one, wait 20 minutes and another will appear.

Sometimes it doesn't work out because the satellite you are seeing is actually WAY up above the earth, like a GPS or Glasnost satellite, but you can tell easily. If you click on the earth and move it just a little, a satellite in a low earth orbit won't move much, but a satellite in a higher orbit will move substatially, and if you zoom out (with Cntrl-Click), you can see it's true altitude.

Now, here is one that is going to fly right over Portland, it's called Dummy Mass 1, probably built by the boys at MIT - that's a joke, sort of...

A couple minutes later...

A minute later...

Have fun, and look at Jtrack's other interesting tools. We like to use JPass email to send us email of an impending fly over by the International Space Station, or the Shuttle when it's up.