Satellite tracking is possible with the naked eye. Some satellites have large reflecting surfaces and under certain conditions they reflect sunlight to the earth thus rendering them visible. The design of Iridium telecommunication satellites is pandering reflections to the earth. Their antennae are flat and reflecting, thus they can be visible even during the day. At night they are a spectacle to watch. The perfect conditions are that the sun is shining on the satellite (no no other celestial body is obstructing the suns rays), the satellite is in a perfect angle towards the observer and he looks at a dark (night) and unobstructed (not cloudy) sky. The satellite will reflect light to the earth just like a cone of light by a spotlight in the dark. When the observer is in the center of the trajectory of this reflection the satellite appears the brightest, the farther away your position is from the center, the dimmer it is. Since the reflection passes it will appear for the observer as if the satellite becomes brighter and then dimmer again, this is what is called a “flare”.

Get Your Geocoordinates

Some of the descripted conditions can be calculated in advance, so you know when they will happen beforehand. You need to know your position in latitude, longitude and height. To find out about those go to Open Street Map and zoom in to your position, then click on “Permalink” at the bottom right. Note the latitude and longitude appearing in the URLuniform resource locator – a human readable web address which is looked up by the →DNS and translated into an →IP Address of the browser.

Choose Your Satellite

Go to heavens-above.com where you can enter those values to define your observing position, or choose one of the pre-defined locations if you are observing from an urban viewpoint.

You can get predictions for the next days including the magnitude of the flare. Check the weather conditions for your site, especially look for the cloud coverage so you know if you have a chance to see the satellite or not.

How To Apply the Predicted Data to Your Physical Situation

Define North

The satellites orbit in certain directions in relation to your viewpoint. Some travel from north to south, som the other way around. The prediction from heavens-above.com shows you if it will fly in western or eastern direction. Take another look on the online map and transfer the information to the physical landscape. Locate yourself and define the cardinal points: North, South, East, West. Make shure you look in the right direction.

Check your Horizon

The shape of the landscape at your spot defines the horizon. The horizon devides the landscape and the open sky. The mountains, walls, trees, and even clouds block the reflecting light between the satellite and your eye. Check the azimuth again and make shure you'll be able to see the satellite. If not search for a higher spot e.g. a roof or a tree.

Wait and Spot

Now everything you have to do is wait and check if the predictions turn out right. Espacially weather predictions are quite a tricky thing. If you have a clear sky, enjoy watching the flare of light reflecting from the orbiting satellite.

note: would be nice to upload a picture of the satellite here.