General Question

jca's avatar

When you look into the night sky, how do you tell the difference between a star and a satellite?

Asked by jca (36030points) March 27th, 2011

I have heard that satellites are bright. Well, stars can be bright, too. How do you tell the difference?

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10 Answers

XOIIO's avatar

Start swill (I believe) Will appear to move much slower than satellites, and I beleive because of satellite orbits that satellites go in the opposite direction. (Not sure about the launch and orbit procedures though.)

snowberry's avatar

The satellite will track across the sky faster than the stars are moving. And the best way is to get the coordinates of each, and then there is no question. This information is available to all amateur astronomers.

XOIIO's avatar

@snowberry Yeah, there are some great stargazing apps.

cazzie's avatar

Satellites move surprisingly fast as you’re looking up in the sky. You will notice them tracking across the sky.

You don’t have to look up every satellite coordinate. It’s much easier to do the opposite and look up to see if its a star, if you are in any doubt at all.

But, as a few of us have said… stars will look stationary, where satellites move quite fast if you hold yourself still and compare it travelling against a more stationary point of light from a star.

My favourite star gazing program is:

It is very basic, but it’s simple enough for my 6 year old son to use and wonderfully detailed.

There are telephone apps to use if you are lucky enough to have one of those types of phones.

Nullo's avatar

Generally, satellite movement is visible to the naked eye. But you have to look; at a glance, everything looks stationary.
Be sure that you don’t mix satellites up with aircraft: watch for the telltale flashing lights and possible droning of the engines of a plane.

Coloma's avatar

Yes, as @Nullo says, you can see the satellite arching across the sky.

I have lived in a mountain area for 19 years and love star gazing and watching for satellites.

Sometimes you can spot several at a time.

Watch for the moving ‘stars.’

downtide's avatar

If it’s bright enough for me to see it at all, it’s an aeroplane. I haven’t seen stars in over 30 years.

Nullo's avatar

@downtide Might help if you got out of the city. There’s enough glare there to squelch any attempts at proper stargazing. The legendary English Countryside ought to do the trick.

downtide's avatar

@Nullo It’s not because of where I am, it’s because I’m partially-sighted. :(

Nullo's avatar

@downtide Ah. My apologies.

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