Satellite Watching as a Hobby: Exploring the Skies From Your Own Backyard

Are you looking for a new hobby that will take you beyond the stars and into the realm of space technology?

Consider satellite watching as a hobby….

With just a telescope and a clear night sky, you can explore the mysteries of the universe and discover the beauty and wonder of space technology.

So why not start your journey to the stars today and try out satellite watching as a hobby?

See Also: What Are Some Observational Hobbies?

What is Satellite Watching?

Satellite watching, also known as satellite spotting, is a hobby that involves observing and tracking artificial satellites that orbit the Earth.

People with this hobby are called satellite watchers, trackers, spotters, or observers.

Since satellites outside Earth’s shadow reflect sunlight, those especially in low Earth orbit may visibly glint (or “flare”) as they traverse the observer’s sky.

Why Watch Satellites?

Watching satellites can be an exciting and rewarding hobby that can be enjoyed by anyone. Here are some reasons why you might want to consider watching satellites:

  • Learn about space: Watching satellites can help you learn more about space and the technology that makes space exploration possible. You can also learn about the different types of satellites and their functions.
  • Observe the ISS: The International Space Station (ISS) is the largest artificial satellite orbiting Earth and can be seen from the ground with the naked eye. It is a popular target for satellite watchers and can be easily spotted on clear nights.
  • Enjoy the night sky: Watching satellites can be a great way to enjoy the night sky and connect with the universe. It can be a relaxing and meditative experience to watch the stars and satellites move across the sky.
  • Track small satellites: With the advent of small satellites, it has become easier than ever to track these tiny spacecraft as they orbit the Earth. Many of these satellites are launched by private companies and universities, making it an exciting time to be a satellite watcher.

Table: Types of Satellites

Type of SatelliteDescription
Low Earth Orbit (LEO)Satellites that orbit the Earth at an altitude of 2,000 km or less.
Geosynchronous SatellitesSatellites that orbit the Earth at the same speed as the Earth’s rotation, allowing them to remain in the same position relative to the ground.
Deep Space SatellitesSatellites that are sent beyond Earth’s orbit to explore other planets and celestial bodies.
Small SatellitesSatellites that are smaller than traditional satellites and are often used for scientific research, communication, and Earth observation.

In conclusion, satellite watching can be a fun and educational hobby that allows you to learn more about space and the technology that makes space exploration possible.

Whether you want to observe the ISS, track small satellites, or simply enjoy the night sky, there is something for everyone in the world of satellite watching.

Getting Started with Satellite Watching

This section will provide you with information on the equipment and software you need, as well as tips on finding the best location and setting up your equipment.

Equipment and Software

To get started with satellite watching, you will need some basic equipment. The following table summarizes the main equipment you will need:

TelescopeA telescope will allow you to see satellites in more detail.
BinocularsBinoculars are a good alternative to a telescope and are more portable.
CameraA camera will allow you to take pictures of satellites.
Satellite DishA satellite dish will allow you to receive signals from satellites.
Raspberry PiA Raspberry Pi can be used to control your equipment.
WindowsWindows is a common operating system used for satellite watching.
Astronomy SoftwareAstronomy software can be used to track satellites and plan observations.
Real Time Satellite TrackingReal time satellite tracking allows you to see the current location of satellites.
Space-TrackSpace-Track is a website that provides satellite tracking data.
Heavens AboveHeavens Above is a website that provides information on when and where to see satellites.
SeeSat-LSeeSat-L is an email list used to share information on satellite observing.
AMSATAMSAT is an organization dedicated to amateur satellite communication.
Augmented RealityAugmented reality can be used to enhance your satellite watching experience.
Digital CamerasDigital cameras can be used to take pictures of satellites.
Video CameraA video camera can be used to record satellite passes.
Software Defined RadioSoftware defined radio can be used to receive satellite signals.
PortablePortable equipment is ideal for satellite watching on the go.
CircleA circle is a useful tool for tracking satellites.
Beacon SignalA beacon signal can be used to locate satellites.

Location and Setup

Finding the right location and setting up your equipment correctly is crucial for successful satellite watching. Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Find a location with a clear view of the sky. Avoid areas with tall buildings or trees that may obstruct your view.
  • Set up your equipment on a stable surface to avoid vibrations that can affect your observations.
  • Use a compass to align your telescope or satellite dish with the correct direction.
  • Use an inclinometer to set the correct elevation angle for your equipment.
  • Use a circle to track the movement of satellites across the sky.
  • Use software such as Heavens Above or Space-Track to plan your observations and find the best viewing times.
  • Join online communities such as SeeSat-L or AMSAT to share information and learn from other satellite watchers.

With the right equipment and setup, satellite watching can be a fascinating and rewarding hobby.

Tracking Satellites

There are several methods for tracking satellites, including real-time tracking, Doppler tracking, and brightness tracking.

Real-Time Tracking

Real-time tracking involves using a receiver to track the location of a satellite in real-time.

This method requires a receiver that can track the satellite’s signal, such as a satellite dish or a dedicated tracking device. With real-time tracking, you can track the satellite’s location and movement across the night sky.

This method is commonly used by NASA to track satellites and spy satellites.

Doppler Tracking

Doppler tracking involves using the Doppler effect to track the location of a satellite. This method measures the change in frequency of the satellite’s signal as it moves towards or away from the observer.

By measuring the change in frequency, you can determine the satellite’s speed and location. This method is commonly used by amateur satellite watchers to track the location of satellites.

Brightness Tracking

Brightness tracking involves tracking the brightness of a satellite as it moves across the night sky. Satellites outside of Earth’s shadow reflect sunlight, which can cause them to visibly glint or flare as they traverse the observer’s sky.

By tracking the brightness of a satellite, you can determine its location and movement across the night sky. This method is commonly used by satellite watchers and spotters.

When tracking satellites, it’s important to have a clear view of the night sky. You can use star charts or satellite imagery to help locate and track satellites.

Google Earth is also a useful tool for tracking satellites and observing celestial objects. Additionally, tracking celestial objects such as asteroids and comets can also be a rewarding hobby.

Advanced Techniques

As you become more experienced in satellite watching, you may want to try out some advanced techniques to take your hobby to the next level. In this section, we will explore two such techniques: interferometry and high-resolution imaging.


Interferometry is a technique that involves combining the signals received by two or more radio telescopes to create a high-resolution image of a satellite.

This technique is especially useful for studying the mechanical properties of spacecraft, such as the orientation and rotation of solar panels.

To perform interferometry, you will need two or more radio telescopes that are separated by a distance known as a baseline. The larger the baseline, the higher the resolution of the resulting image.

Once you have collected the signals from the telescopes, you will need to combine them using a process known as fringe analysis.

One of the most well-known visual satellite observers who use interferometry is Marco Langbroek, who operates the SatTrackCam Leiden Station in the Netherlands. Langbroek has used interferometry to study a variety of satellites, including the Insight Mars lander.

High-Resolution Imaging

High-resolution imaging is another advanced technique that can be used to study satellites in greater detail. This technique involves using a telescope with a high magnification to capture detailed images of geosynchronous satellites or those in orbit around the moon.

To perform high-resolution imaging, you will need a telescope with a large aperture and a high magnification eyepiece. You will also need to track the satellite as it moves across the sky, which can be challenging for objects in high orbit.

One of the key benefits of high-resolution imaging is that it allows you to study the details of a satellite’s structure, such as its solar panels or other components. This can be especially useful for studying spacecraft that are in the process of being built or repaired.

Provides high-resolution imagesRequires a telescope with a large aperture
Allows for detailed study of a satellite’s structureCan be challenging to track objects in high orbit
Useful for studying spacecraft in the process of being built or repairedMay require specialized equipment


Overall, satellite watching is an exciting and accessible hobby that offers many benefits. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced observer, it is a great way to explore the wonders of space and learn about the technology that makes it possible. So grab your binoculars or telescope and start exploring the skies today!

For more information on satellite watching, check out the following resources:

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