In the video above, which has been viewed more than 3 million times and illustrates the satellite traffic around Earth, it looks like our planet is being swarmed by metallic bees.
It’s hard to pin down a number for how many satellites are currently orbiting Earth, but one estimate places the figure at about 1,100 active satellites, plus another 2,600 that don’t work any more.
The number gets much higher when you widen the parameters to include varying amounts of space junk which may have once been satellites.
Now, artist and engineer Patricio Gonzalez has created Line of Sight, an interactive map that allows you to follow thousands of satellites overhead in real-time.
Tech site Gizmodo reports:
“Satellites in orbit are moving at roughly 17,000 miles per hour, meaning they pass over your city in a matter of minutes, but that’s still enough time to spot them, if you know where to look — which has always been a challenge… until now. Using metadata about the thousands of orbiting satellites is available through sources like SatNOGS, Gonzalez’s map monitors satellites as they criss-cross the globe, allowing you to track specific spacecraft or learn when and where you should look to see those passing over your house.”
But of those thousands of satellites buzzing around the Earth, how many are on orbits crossing over the Maine sky? Surprisingly, few, actually.
You might think with so many satellites out there, you could look in almost any direction with a strong enough telescope and see a whole bunch of them.
However, at one point when we sorted the information to show “visible” satellites, just one lonely Russian rocket was found over the Pine Tree State (screenshot above).
About an hour later, though, that number meandered up to three — including the now-deactivated Earth Radiation Budget Satellite, launched in 1984 by NASA to study “stratospheric aerosol and gases;” and the Kosmos-482 descent craft, a 1970s-era Venus probe that never made it that far.
These relics of space exploration have interesting stories to tell.
The ERBS was deployed by the space shuttle Challenger on the same trip to feature the first space walk by an American woman. That came just two years before the ship’s now infamous disintegration just moments after another launch, killing all seven astronauts on-board.
The ERBS was built to survive just two years circling the planet, but ended up lasting more than two decades collecting atmospheric data for American scientists.
The Kosmos-482 was sent into space by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but failed to escape Earth’s orbit on its way to Venus. Pieces of the satellite broke off and fell back to Earth, landing in New Zealand. Normally, the space gear would have had to have been returned to the country that launched it, but the Soviets denied all knowledge of the project, so the New Zealand farmer got to keep it and let his country’s scientists analyze the equipment.
You can also sort the Line of Sight map information by different types of satellites, from military satellites to weather satellites to navigation satellites and many more.