How To Spot Satellites

Have you ever looked up at the night sky, counting the stars in wonder, questioning yourself about the meaning of life? Well, not everything shiny up there is actually a star, as the universe is full of things, and we humans have created even more! 

For example, sometimes it’s a planet, rather than a star. And when you see a fast dot of light moving across the sky, sometimes it’s not a shooting star, it’s a satellite! Sent to space by humans, and used to monitor many different things, as well as allowing things such as satellite connections! 

And you’d be surprised by how many satellites there are up there. Seriously. So many that you might start questioning just how many you see every night, and simply don’t acknowledge. Because contrary to popular belief, most satellites are completely visible to the naked eye, even though they appear as a star at first glance. 

If you want to learn to see satellites in the sky, so that you can point them out to your friend and learn more about them in general, then stick around. We’re going to tell you exactly how to spot satellites, along with some interesting facts. 

Does that sound good? Then let’s get right into it! 

What Are Satellites?

Before we go into detail about how to spot satellites in the sky, it might be worth clarifying exactly what a satellite is. 

Technically, the definition of a satellite is any object that orbits a planet or a star. So the moon, for example, counts as a satellite under this definition, as do any man-made machines that are sent out to space to orbit the Earth. 

However, for this article, when we say satellite we are exclusively referring to machines that orbit the planet, so we’re excluding the moon and any other possible satellites. Plus, the most common interpretation of the word satellite is the machines anyway! 

But just so that it’s crystal clear, we will be talking about satellites as in the machines that are sent out to orbit planet Earth. 

How To Spot A Satellite In The Sky

Okay, time to get into the heart of the question, and talk about how exactly you can spot a satellite in the sky. The truth is, that there are two main ways of spotting a satellite in the sky: on purpose, and by accident. 

To spot a satellite in the sky by accident, it’s all about chance encounters. Like for example, you are just looking up at the night sky, and you just so happen to see a satellite go by across the sky. This is pretty common, so it’s something that you will likely be able to do often, without having to plan for it. And as soon as you start recognizing what a satellite looks like, you will start realizing just how many you happen to see! 

To increase your chances of seeing a satellite by accident, look up at the sky during dawn or dusk, as this is when satellites are easier to see with the naked eye! 

To spot a satellite on purpose, then it’s all about investigating when and where you will be able to see a particular satellite, and making sure you’re at the right place at the right time, looking up and ready.

This sounds like it might be a lot of effort, but it’s actually really easy as there are many satellite tracking apps that can help you out with knowing when and where! Of course, it’s preferable that you also plan for the right conditions, such as dusk or dawn, and a clear sky with no clouds in the way! 

People that plan for satellite spotting can also then try to photograph the satellites, and some results are truly beautiful! 

How To Plan For Spotting A Satellite

Anyone can accidentally spot a satellite in the night sky, but as we’ve mentioned, you can also purposefully plan to spot a satellite at a given time and place, as this is also fairly easy to do! 

The main thing that you need, to make spotting a satellite possible, is a good satellite tracking app. Yes, satellite tracking app! There are many apps that have been created that are able to track different satellites, telling you when and where you can see them at any given moment, as well as giving you their name and information specific to them.

Pretty cool right? And as long as you have a good satellite tracking app, you will have no problem planning for a satellite sighting. 

Here are some of our favorite satellite tracking apps and websites that we absolutely recommend you try out: 

Heavens Above

This is one of the most popular and easy satellite tracking apps to use, and it’s very trustworthy and reliable. We love it because it brings up a list of the brightest satellites that are set to pass over your location, so it basically helps you choose the satellites you have the most chances of seeing! 


CelesTrak is a satellite tracking website that has been live since 1985, and it’s great for those that want more advanced and detailed information about the satellites in question, in order to get the best possible sighting, as well as study other information about them. 


SatFlare is amazing for those that regularly plan to spot satellites, as it contains advanced information and plenty of helpful tips.

You do have to become a member and log in, but once you do, you become a part of the SatFlare community, and users help each other exchange information and experience in order to come together over the fascination for the night sky. 


OrbTrack is a very visual way of knowing where a satellite is at any given moment, as it shows them on a world map, with live movements. It shows the International Space Station, by default, as this is the most important satellite, but you can enter the name of any satellite in the search bar to look it up! 

When using these satellite tracking apps, just make sure that you pay attention to the brightness levels of the satellite, as well as the direction it will come from, so that you are sure to get the best sighting of it possible! 

Can You Photograph A Satellite In The Sky?

Those that regularly spot satellites in the sky can sometimes become extra fascinated, and develop multiple hobbies around them. One of them is photography!

Satellites can be viewed by the naked eye, and if you know some basics, they can also be photographed and recorded for some beautiful results! 

In order to photograph a satellite, the first thing is to choose the right one, as it will need to be one of the brighter ones, such as the ISS. This makes sense, as otherwise, it will be a lot harder to catch it on camera. And then, well, it’s pretty similar to photographing shooting stars.

All you have to do is set up the camera in the right place, facing the right direction and angle, and you leave the shutter open for 10 to 60 seconds. Modern DSLR cameras are really good for this, and you can do some test exposure shots beforehand to make sure everything is functional. 

Ideally, you might also be able to set the camera shutter speed to local sky conditions! 

Honestly, it’s just about playing around with the camera until you find the sweet spot, and then you can go on to photograph and capture all sorts of interesting satellites! 

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, spotting a satellite is pretty easy. They are visible to the naked eye, and there are so many that you can easily spot a few every night, entirely by accident!

But if you want to properly plan a satellite sighting, then you have to use a satellite tracking app, which will tell you what satellites can be seen, where, and when! 

Gordon Watts