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Paper Plate Education
"Serving the Universe on a Paper Plate"

Video Excerpts: Satellite Tracking Bowl 

The following pictures and narration are excerpted from the Paper Plate Astronomy  video.

With the Satellite Tracking Bowl you plot the predicted path of visible satellites on the inside dome of a bowl.  Then you use the bowl as an alignment tool to face the direction and anticipate the path of the satellite crossing overhead.

dsc00012.jpg (17853 bytes) Conveniently, foam bowls such as Hefty brand have 36 decorative scallops around their perimeters, so each scallop represents 10 degrees.  

dsc00013.jpg (19111 bytes) You can calibrate your horizon into 360 degrees of azimuth...  

 dsc00014.jpg (16595 bytes) Or you can label the cardinal points --North, South, East, and West-- and draw features of your local horizon similar to the Sunrise Sunset activity.  

Notice here we have on the near edge the zero degree mark for North and on the opposite side is South.

One bowl you will cut in half to make a tool for plotting the satellite’s positions onto a second bowl, which is the end product.

Envision yourself standing under this bowl or dome of stars overhead.  You want to mark the angular amount from the horizon (or zero degrees) up to your zenith, overhead at 90 degrees...    

dsc00015.jpg (29518 bytes) Hold a protractor against the edge of the halved bowl and mark zero-to 90 degrees near that edge...

dsc00016.jpg (18405 bytes) Then label those hash marks zero through 90 degrees.

Obtain satellite data for your location from the “Heavens Above” website...  It lists satellite name, when the satellite pass starts, maximum altitude, and when satellite visibility ends.

Here’s an example of how you will plot the satellite position.  Place the half-bowl inside the whole one and rotate it so that the zero-degree mark is near the desired azimuth, or compass heading.  Then go up to the desired altitude and mark that spot on the bottom bowl.

dsc00017.jpg (33027 bytes) From this evening’s predictions we see the object named Meteor 1-29 Rocket, magnitude 2.5, is first seen at this time, 10 degrees of altitude in the south southeast.

dsc00018.jpg (19776 bytes) Here’s the southeast ... so this is south southeast...place the bowl there...and make a mark at 10 degrees.

Next, this satellite reaches a maximum altitude of 88 degrees toward the north northeast, which is essentially overhead.

You can plot this...here’s NNE..88 degrees.

The satellite pass ends at 10 degrees in the north northwest...which you again plot.  Notice how sometimes the full duration of the satellite pass can not be seen due to obstructions nearby.

dsc00019.jpg (20432 bytes) Draw a line connecting these points...

and label the path with satellite name and starting time when the satellite first appears...When you are done you have an entire evening’s worth of predicted passes represented visually on the bowl.

To use it, you hold the bowl overhead, align yourself in the proper direction, and look near the predicted spot in the sky....  


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Copyright 2012 Chuck Bueter.  All rights reserved.