Map Monday: See satellite flares in the evening sky using your current location

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You don’t have to be the kind to wish upon a shooting star to find our night skies interesting. You also don’t need lots of expensive telescopes to go stargazing.

No, all you need to see something special in the evening sky is the amateur astronomy website, Heavens Above. With a bit of know-how – there are some detailed FAQs to peruse, right here – you can be up and star-spotting in next to no time.

Heavens Above is a lightweight site, but it’ll get you mapping the sky in no time.

The easiest way to get up and running is by using Google Maps to get the co-ordinates of your house (or star-gazing location of choice). Enter those into the Heavens Above profile tool, and it’ll immediately map out where you can spot stars, the International Space Station, and even catch a glimpse of Iridium flares. The latter are flares in the evening sky, produced by the reflection of sunlight off the surfaces of Iridium communications satellites.

To make things super easy, HA provides charts of when you can spot Iridium flares, comets, and more, right down to the exact time of day. Also provided are details of where to look in the sky, charts for where the major satellites are currently orbiting, and brightness of the objects in the sky (pro tip: brightness is better when the negative number is bigger).

Once you’ve familiarised yourself with the hands-free satellite spotting, you can decide whether or not you’re ready to splash out on a telescope. Even those are going for a song, relatively speaking.

Image source

Jose Martinez, Flickr

Christo van Gemert

Christo van Gemert

Eleven years ago Christo started writing about technology for one of South Africa's (then) leading computer magazines. His first review? A Samsung LCD monitor. Hey, it was hot news, back then. Nowadays he gets more excited about photography, cars, game consoles, and faster internet connections. He's sort of an Apple fan, but will take any opportunity to remind you about his Windows-powered home theatre PC and desire to own a vanilla Android tablet.   Currently uses: Apple 13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina Display, Apple iPhone 5, Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000, Audiofly AF78 Earphones, Xbox 360, Nikon D50.