A Beginner's Guide On How To Track Starshine

If you're starting to track satellites for the very first time, you've come to the right place. This is the beginner's satellite tracking site. Here are five easy steps to follow so you can watch Starshine go winking its way across the morning or evening twilight sky:

1. First of all, pick a good spot for your observing site. Find a place that's out in the open, without a lot of trees or buildings to block your view of the sky, and, most importantly, get away from bright lights. They will completely ruin your night vision, and you will not see the satellite. Most satellites, including Starshine, are pretty faint, so you'll have to make an extra effort to go someplace where there are no bright lights in your field of view, and where there is no strong skyglow from city lights. If you're in the northern hemisphere and can see the North Star, also known as Polaris, you may be able to see Starshine with your naked eye. Similarly, if you're in the southern hemisphere and can see Gamma Crucis, you may be able to see Starshine without binoculars or a telescope.

2. Now go to a really cool Internet web site operated by the Mr. Chris Peat of Heavens-Above by clicking here: http://www.heavens-above.com/ and then clicking on the statement labeled "Select From the Data Base." Follow the instructions to find the nearest location to your observing site. You will then end up back at the Project Starshine Visibility Home Page" which you should be sure to bookmark (so you won't have to fill all this stuff in when you come back to it the next time). Alternatively, you can enter the coordinates of your site , if you have found them from some other method, such as a GPS receiver. Put in your time zone and a name for your observing site by clicking on the "edit manually" link.

From the home page, you can now click on the "Starshine 10 day predictions" link. Find a date on which it will be visible in your area, and look at the "Starts" box in the table to find the time it will first show up. (Please notice that sometimes it will be visible in the morning sky and sometimes it will be visible in the evening sky.) Look in the table for the compass direction (azimuth) and the elevation above the horizon at which it will first appear.

Now look at the "Max. Elevation" block. This tells you how high in the sky Starshine will be at the maximum elevation it will reach during this particular "pass" across the stars. It also tells you the time it will get there and the compass direction you should face to see it at maximum elevation. The "Ends" box tells you when and where the satellite will disappear from view. You can determine the compass direction in which you're looking by bringing along a magnetic compass and a small flashlight with a piece of red cellophane taped over its lens. Directions can be pretty confusing in the dark, so the compass and flashlight will be good to have. By the way, elevation is measured from zero on the horizon to 90 degrees straight up. A convenient rule of thumb is that, if you hold your fist out in front of you with your thumb on top, it measures about ten degrees of elevation from bottom to top.

3. Here's how to use a really neat feature that Chris Peat has recently added to his Heavens-Above web site, as a huge favor to the Starshine Project: Click on the highlighted date for the pass you're interested in, and a printable sky map will be displayed for your location for the date chosen. The neatest thing is that Starshine's pass across the stars is plotted on the chart, with time hacks displayed every few seconds. You can see where the satellite will be going by carefully clicking in the margin of the map ahead of the satellite's present position. You can also zoom in on any part of the map by clicking right on the spot you'd like to see more closely. This is an incredible feature, and it will allow beginners to move right into the next phase of the Starshine Project when you feel comfortable enough to do so.

4. You'll need to be able to set your watch or clock very precisely, so you can be ready to watch Starshine at just the right time. Get your watch or clock in your hand and click here http://www.time.gov/. Synchronize your timepiece as precisely as you can with this display. You can figure out your own local time by adding or subtracting the number of time zones that you are east of west of Greenwich, England. If you select your location from the database, the time zone offset will be displayed automatically on the predictions page (for example, GMT-5:00). If you specify your location manually, you will need to subtract an extra hour of difference between your location and GMT in the summer.)

5. You're all set now to go watch Starshine's mirrors reflecting short flashes of sunlight as the satellite goes sweeping across the sky. Enjoy the sight. Isn't it neat to realize that it was the combined effort of 25,000 young people in 17 countries that made those flashes happen? By the way, Starshine's passes will be visible in cycles, a few days to a few weeks apart, due to a combination of the earth's rotating on its axis once a day (and taking you with it) and the satellite's orbiting around the earth every hour and a half. There's a good illustration of this on the Heavens-Above web site in the graphic that shows its present position in orbit. Take a look at that position several times a day, and you can see why it's visible at your location only every once in awhile.

You'll also be able to get three different views of the orbit by clicking on the "Orbit" link at the top of the pass predictions pass for Starshine, and, in fact, for any other visible satellite. Don't forget that when you can't see Starshine, there are lots of other satellites to watch, and you can find them on the Heavens-Above site, right where you found Starshine. So, get your friends and neighbors out to watch with you and show them how easy it is. One word of advice: if you really want to improve your chances of seeing Starshine and all these other satellites, under a variety of lighting conditions and skyglow and atmospheric pollution, you'll want to buy or borrow a good pair of 7 x 35 or 7 x 42, or even 10 x 50 binoculars. You'll be needing them in the next phase of the program, anyway, so you might as well locate a good pair right at the beginning.

After you've gotten comfortable with finding and tracking Starshine across the sky, and you're ready to get serious about helping us measure Starshine's position and timing precisely, come on back to the Starshine web site and click on the "Internediate Guide to Tracking Starshine" page. We'll give you a more comprehensive set of instructions there for how to become a real Starshine observer and data taker.


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