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NASA SkyWatch SkySearch Help

**Click on a section of the user interface to provide detailed information.**

The SkySearch function is primarily used to determine the identity of a satellite that you may have seen. Many times, you may have seen a satellite without knowing what it was or anything about it. Was it the space station? Was it the Hubble Space Telescope? The SkySearch function allows you to determine the name of the satellite and perhaps its origin. From there, an internet search on the name of the satellite many times provides you with a significant amount of information about the satellite.

Second, the SkySearch function will be able to provide a number of sightings for any given evening or morning by searching through its database and displaying visible objects in orbit - not just those satellites of interest. Many times these objects are small and not easily seen. Remember, not all satellites are as visible as the space station. Expended rocket bodies have been known to provide excellent sightings with occasional variations in brightness caused by tumbling.

The tab is divided into four sections:

  1. Observer Location
  2. Selected Date / Time of Day
  3. Calendar
  4. Status Map Input SatInfo Orbit Table SkyLog SkySearch Variables About Observer Location Selected Date / Time of Day Calendar Status
The SkySearch function allows you to determine sightings of a wide variety of Earth orbiting objects - not just those scientific satellites associated with NASA or other international agencies. Indeed, most of the objects in orbit are debris - spent rocket bodies, abandoned or non functioning satellites, or other debris generated from a breakup of a satellite.

Since there are so many objects in orbit, the SkySearch is limited to a maximum search time of 6 hours or less. It is designed to determine what sightings are possible during a typical evening or morning. Depending on your location, dozens of sightings each night are possible. SkySearch helps you determine what is visible and when.

Then there are those satellites that you may have seen a few days ago or last night that you would like to know what it was. Was it the space station, the Hubble Space Telescope, or just another rocket body or old obsolete satellite? Again, SkySearch will allow you do identify satellites based on sightings in the past and to isolate the time of interest down to only one hour if you desire.

The SkySearch begins with the selection of your location. The observer location section is identical to the observer location selection section on the input tab. In fact, the two are linked together so that you do not have to change both of them.

Once the location is chosen, select a day of interest from the calendar. Simply pushing one of the days on the calendar will select the day. Windows users will notice that the day turns red to indicate that it has been chosen. Once chosen, the day will appear in the "Selected Day" section of the user interface. By default, the day selected is the current day but selecting a day up to one month in the future or past is permissible. Note that processing sightings that far from the current time will take much more time and will probably be not as accurate as sightings within a week or so of current time.

Now select the time of day that you wish to search. You will need to specify a starting time of day to begin the search and how long to look. By default, the beginning time is 6:00 PM local time and has four hours duration. Reducing the duration will focus in on a specific time of day.

Click the "Search" button and SkySearch will search the sky for visible objects that appear at the specified date and time. Click the "Resume Search" button if you have stopped the search before completion and wish to continue from where you stopped. The status bar will give you an indication of the progress of the search and provide an estimated completion time.

Results of the search will appear on the SkyLog Tab. The satellite identification may appear to be somewhat confusing unless you are aware of some of the abbreviations that are used. The Hubble Space Telescope for example, will be listed as "HST". The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite will be listed as "UARS". However, there are many other observable objects in Earth orbit that may appear when using the SkySearch function. Generally, satellites are identified by what booster put them into orbit followed by the satellite name or identification number, and may be followed by a brief description of what the object is. For example, The Russian satellite identified as 1867 placed into orbit by the COSMOS booster would be identified as "COSMOS 1867". The spent COSMOS rocket body that placed object 1867 into orbit would be identified as "COSMOS 1867 R/B". Unknown orbital debris that was generated by this launch may be referred to as "COSMOS 1867 DEB".

The following list gives some common names and abbreviations for frequently observable objects:

R/B - is a reference to a spent Rocket Body
DEB - Unknown debris
COSMOS - Russian launch vehicle
SL - A family of Russian launch vehicles
TITAN IV - U.S. Titan IV launch vehicle
ATLAS CENTAUR - U.S. Atlas-Centaur launch vehicle
DELTA - The U.S. Delta launch vehicle
METEOR - The U.S. METEOR launch vehicle


Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: Amiko Kauderer | Updated: 09/23/2011
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