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Show HN: See a Satellite Tonight. No Telescope Required (darpinian.com)
863 points by modeless on Sept 21, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 151 comments

For whoever built this app: I was checking HN in bed. I clicked your app and noticed the ISS would be passing overhead in less than a minute. My reaction was to immediately jump up, yell at my kids to run with me outside. We didn't know where to look, but then I figured out how to load the streetview and saw that it would be closer to the horizon and BOOM. We finally saw it zooming across the night sky, everybody started to cheer and yell. It was the most amazing thing we've done all week :).

I love your story, and all the others like it here! It's exactly what I was hoping for when making the site. I hope some kids are inspired to learn more about space after seeing satellites for themselves!

Same with me. ISS will cross me in few mins.(Edit: changed the exact minutes)

Edit:Saw it. I wanted to take a photo or video but the street light and overexposed the photo. How do I take a reasonably good photo of ISS?

I don't know about the iss specifically, but was stunned that taking a handheld photo with my huawei mate p20 pro - I could capture bright city lights, the aurora and a few bright stars shining through the aurora - in the same frame.

I'd be hard pressed to manage the same with my (old) dslr.

Pics or it didn't happen. That's an impressive amount of dynamic range you are talking about.


These are a couple of pictures I took with my Huawei p30 a few months ago.

Yes. It's a combination of high iso with relatively low noise, and some enforced heavy handed post-processing in the camera app. And perhaps multiple exposures, I suspect. The pictures aren't "great" - but considering it's just "point and shoot" - I found it pretty impressive.

Let me see if I can't upload a couple of examples.

Ed: Any easy image hosting sites that work on mobile and allow selective whitelisting of exif data? I might want to strip time/GPS, but keep/present exposure information.. All without having to go via a desktop image program.

https://imgur.com/upload is the fastest to make it accessible but it doesn't allow selective whitelisting.

Ah oh well. The motives and information already on hn probably correlate well enough anyway, so:


I guess you'll have to download to see exif info.

Ed: i guess a photo sharing site that both values exif (exposure etc) and privacy (allow whitelisting) might be a nice side project..

These photos are amazing!

I think Flickr gives you what you want. But you do have to pay.

I've seen the ISS at -10 magnitude, at that brightness we could see it through thick clouds!! So probably part of it is waiting for it to be very bright.

Hmm. That’s a lot of location info there.

Good feels. Family moments like these are one of the joys of having children.

Thankfully I was a couple hours early. Checked that spiffy app thing, set an alarm for 8:54, and watched it. It was moving a lot faster then I expected.

Hey we did that last night at my cousin’s wedding! Was really fun. I never realized how bright it was or how fast it moves. Really cool to see!

Combining the timing info of this with the "Night Sky" AR app to actually pinpoint the satellite made it really easy!

HA! I've never seen the ISS before. Went out to the front of the house to watch with my kid. Lo and behold, a light appears right where the site said it would, following the trajectory. I start recording. Watching it, I start to notice blinking colored lights and comment that I didn't think we'd be able to see blinking lights. They start getting clearer (you already know where this is going), I start to get suspicious and stop recording. It's moving pretty fast so we follow it to the backyard at which point we're both pretty sure we can hear it. I'm already positive what we just watched was a plane but, just as it fades away, I look just a little higher up and see a much smaller white, non-blikning dot moving almost just as fast. So we watched that. Instead of losing it over the horizon of our fence, it sort of fades out of view in the middle of the sky, which I've never witnessed, and was damn cool to see, but exactly what I would expect to see watching a space station and not a plane :)

Went back and watched the short video I did shoot and, even at low quality, the ISS was visible right above the plane the entire time, we just didn't notice. What are the chances a close, but not so close to be immediately obvious (which happens a lot here), plane would be flying almost the same trajectory as the ISS the first time I try to view it?

At first I was going to wonder what the benefit of this above something like www.heavens-above.com is, and then I went all the way through. The real benefit is, I think, the use of a street view visualization to show where the satellites are going to be in the sky.

I would suggest that it might make sense to emphasize that technology over the globe-with-satellite view, as it's a much better trick to pull off.

Thanks! The problem is street view is expensive. I would love to load it at startup but I would run out my free Maps API quota more quickly. (That may happen anyway if this gets popular.) I'm hoping that this way people who aren't that interested bounce before loading street view so that the quota is reserved for people who are really interested.

Google should just buy this from you and make it part of google maps for free :)

No, because Google would then risk shut it down.

What he should do is, ask for free « open-source » credits, for the glory of science. That’s something Google would get behind.

If you want to make that clearer you could perhaps create a gif of a generic location and put it at the start of the demonstration?

Or even just a screenshot.

(you probably could not do it with a streetview photo, because of their terms, but a generic photo would totally do)

A way for people to "experience" the app, if/when quota is exhausted. Which might also to satisfy the curiosity of some, before they use quota.

> (you probably could not do it with a streetview photo, because of their terms, but a generic photo would totally do)

My fuzzy recollection is some years-ago TOS permitted showing the service being used?

I meant more as a visual way to demonstrate, once the page is open, what you will get out of it

(better interface. but then again, it might make too many people use it)

even using a generic image, and showing the path through the horizon with a compass in a generic 3d space would help to orient yourself

Makes sense. As many others have noted, nice integration of Street View and satellite data!

Shameless plug: we at NetToolKit recently launched a very affordable geocoder that includes rooftop-level geocoding for most of the US (using OpenAddresses data). You can test out the accuracy here: https://www.nettoolkit.com/geo/demo

We'd be thrilled if you would consider using our service (first 1,000 requests per day can be free).

I thought there was a way to use a users quota instead of yours. But hopefully Google just comps you a quota increase.

it's a great site, I'm gonna see if I can spot the satellite in a few minutes :)

could you maybe also draw the path of the satellite as a faint line where the dot moves over? the entire path wasn't in view meaning I had to wait for the animation, if you get my point.

oh and another idea, could you make it so you can also pan the height at which you look in the streetview? Because I was looking out of my window on the second floor, but streetview is at street level. I dont know if that's a possible feature, though.

Can we create user accounts that require our own streetview api credentials from Google?

I’ll second that the street view was super impressive

Street view is awesome especially for less than novices like me. The daytime street view is good because I know ah that’s in my back garden or I better go on the street and look right to see it. A star map projected onto a daytime augmented reality would be useful too if someone created that.

What an incredibly creative idea.

On the home page I thought, yeah sure but how am I gonna know exactly where to look exactly when and how long do I have...

...and then the first result was the ISS moving in real-time laid over my street view, and all my questions were perfectly answered. I mean, I know what building to look above down to the second!

So just -- super-kudos, one of the cleverest things I've seen in a while.

Great execution, a breath of fresh air that you don't ask to 'sign up', 'enter email', etc. and just provide the value right away to be experienced.

Site doesnt work unless you give it location access.

My browser is too simple to support location pop up dialogs (it's some lightweight webview wrapper from f-droid with a workflow that I like), I figured it wouldn't work but after a few seconds it fell back to IP based geolocation. Very happily surprised :)

And like someone else already said, street view works fine with a coarse location like a city name, so long as the name is unique and you don't end up in another country.

If you choose to not share your location, it will ask you to enter an address and it doesn't have to be a full address. Just city name is enough.

It should fall back to IP geolocation, but you really need to know at least a general location to get accurate times.

That's correct - it used IP geolocation for me as my browser is configured to auto-reject Location API requests. :)

what is the default using when I'm using my desktop? My Wifi SSID and creepy pre-sharing to databases that I did inadvertently?

The default is the HTML geolocation API, as implemented by your web browser.

The street-view feature is very impressive, and very useful, especially when combined with the schedule. Thank you for building this.

Yes! Looks like the ISS is passing over me in 30 minutes and I know exactly where to look now.

Another excellent site for live-tracking of satellites is https://www.n2yo.com which seems to have a pretty exhaustive database of satellites of all kinds. I've used it to track the ISS' position when they were transmitting SSTV images[0] and I was able to pick up those images with my handheld VHF radio[1]!

The site gives 10-day estimates of the satellites' passes (for example the ISS at [2]), but I found its estimation of visibility to be a bit inaccurate for radio reception. Maybe that was more due to my radio antenna positioning though - not sure! Still, it's super useful to give you an idea of possible schedule for upcoming passes, in case you want to plan for it!

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slow-scan_television

[1] https://twitter.com/amatecha/status/1157891660648370176

[2] https://www.n2yo.com/passes/?s=25544

These sites are all highly likely to be using something known as TLEs (two line element files) or "keps", which come from NORAD, based on radar observations, for their positional data.



Anything using these TLEs should be identical.

For radio reception, if the problem wasn't pointing calibration, I suspect it was polarisation. There is ~3dB difference between 0 and 45 degrees, but ~25dB difference between 0 and 90 degrees. Therefore either use circularly polarised antennas (e.g. https://www.wimo.com/xquad-antennas_e.html) so you're never more than 45 degrees out, or if it's hand-held, simply twist the antenna for maximum signal strength. The polarisation will vary through the pass.

For some really crappy satellite positioning / radio software that everyone uses because no-one's written a better one yet, check out satpc32.

Others have already said that the street view integration is amazing but I just want to say that I think it's actually better than most of the live sattelite augmented reality apps I've used, which just never seem to work for me and even after looking at them for ten minutes I still can't tell what's going on. It's really awesome

This is very cool application of technology. I have always wanted to see the ISS but did not know where to look in the sky. The Google Street View integration tells me exactly where to look.

https://issdetector.com (ISS is free, not sure about the other objects) does that and you can set up an alarm.

You can point your phone at the sky and see the exact path, visibility conditions etc but wow that Google Street integration by OP makes ISS Detector feel almost outdated.

Especially important in a city where a lot of times buildings will make the sighting impossible.

I just saw the ISS!

This was posted a few hours ago and told me exactly where and when to look and sure enough, there it was.


Yeah, I lucked out, it was only 10 minutes away when I opened the site. Really cool! Thanks OP!

I just happened to stumble upon this an hour ago and was able to catch the ISS passing over Boston shortly later! The street view integration is magic and made the ISS a piece of cake to find.

This is such a clever app, and the street view integration is very slick! I did notice that the button to notify me when other objects will be passing overhead didn't do anything (iOS safari)... would love to sign up for notifications when there are more sightings to be had.

Glad you were able to see the ISS! Thanks for the bug report. I just found out that the reason for this is that Safari does not support the standard Web Push API. https://www.caniuse.com/#feat=push-api

Maybe they'll implement it eventually. Until then I guess I'll hide the notification button in Safari.

This is excellent! Perfect execution. Street View even has a night filter applied.

We'll include it in The Orbital Index (https://orbitalindex.com) next week.

I'm guessing its not a coincidence you chose the day the ISS passes over the middle of the continental US to post this?

It is visible for a couple weeks every couple months. Could just be coincidence (though kudos for good marketing if it's planned!). I am wondering though if there's a prioritization for visibility going on, like `maximumBy (comparing brightness) (filter isInLOS allSatellites)` or if there's some prioritization by known-ness. I suspect ISS would score high in both.

I love the Street view integration, as people have already said.

However, I plugged in an address that I know will be accurate when put into Google Maps, but it put me at the generic center of my zip code. That is still close enough to figure things out, but I'm curious why an address would work on Maps, but not this site?

I'm using a free geocoding service instead of Google Maps, to preserve my free quota for Street View. If you load it on your phone you'll get GPS location instead of geocoding which should work better.

Can confirm -- I checked it out on my phone and the street view location is 10 meters away from where I currently stand (Davis Sq, Somerville, MA)

Not sure how then, but in Chrome on my laptop, the ISS passes over a view of the front of my house.

The implementation is just magical. Well done!

One can also enter the GPS coordinates directly when viewed on a PC. It worked for me at least.

Doesn't work for me. All I see in Firefox (on desktop) is a blurry earth animation which you can zoom but which does nothing. There are some errors in the console and that's about it. There might be some text or something in the lower left corner but that is blurry too.

Similar for me. Can enter location, but the tab freezes after i hit "go". Looking at the taskmanager, there is a FF content process using an entire core. Dev tools are kind of unresponsive and the process keeps running for a while even after closing the tab (the first 3 even til i killed them via taskmanager). Confusingly, it runs fine on another PC with same ff version + addon setup. So yeah, I'm confused and out of ideas :(

There should be a Firefox location permission prompt, which you can allow or decline to continue. If not, perhaps an extension is blocking the geolocation API?

Geolocation requests are blocked via Firefox privacy settings. There is no hint on the page that it is required.

It's not required. Perhaps Firefox's implementation of privacy blocking breaks the behavior of the API, which has a standard way of denying location information. Or maybe you're also blocking the IP geolocation service that I use as a fallback.

Just following up, I tested in Firefox with strict privacy settings and location disabled, and it works for me with the IP geolocation fallback. If IP geolocation fails I have a further fallback to enter your street address. So something else must be broken.

Can you see satellites if you live in a city?

Yes. You can reliably see ISS in urban locations -- it's actually quite cool to do a few times.

It will be a point of light, moving very fast against the background, just as shown in some of the animations in OP. If the geometry is set up so you can see the whole overpass (nearly horizon-to-horizon) it will still last only a couple of minutes.

It will happen around sunset, when the sunlight is shining on ISS, but it's dark (or dusky at least) on the ground. You don't see ISS easily at night because it will be in Earth's shadow.

Yes! As long as you can see a few stars then you should be able to see most of the satellites that the site shows. The International Space Station in particular can be brighter than any star.

The Moon and ISS are pretty easy to see almost everywhere.

Hmm, now I want a notification when the ISS will pass in front of the Moon from my location.

Edit: Of course http://i2.wp.com/boingboing.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/t...

Yes, I've seen many satellites from the city. I even caught a iridium flare randomly one night. A good time is about 1/2 hour after sunset.

Yes for the ISS. It's the brightest satellite most of the time because it's huge compared to the rest.

I got lucky and clicked on this and less than a minute later there was an ISS transit, and I ran outside and saw it!

Same here, saw the post, tested it and saw ISS was passing over my house in a few minutes, called my wife to go outside look for it. At first we saw a (possible) satellite, we thought it was too little to be ISS and the trajectory wasn't correct as displayed on the site. Then it just disappeared and when we're heading back inside, we saw the actual ISS, brighter, 2 to 3 times bigger, disappearing near the same spot as the satellite. It was about 2 minutes late and about 10 (land) meters to the right if compared with the projection in google street view, but still impressed by the precision.

Great job with this. Wife enjoyed and it piqued her interest on ISS! Thanks.

That was cool.

A kind of similar thing I'd like to see is something for geosynchronous satellites that tells you now, and at future times of your choosing, where they are relative to the visible constellations at your location.

That could make finding a good spot for a satellite dish a lot easier. Pick a time at night, find out what constellation the satellite will be in then, and later all you have to do is go out at that time and find a spot where you can see the right part of that constellation.

This is cool if you don't have time, but if you just look at the sky at night for a while in a dark enough area, you'll see a satellite.

I love Sky Map Android app, would love seeing satellites and planes like this there. Are there any available out there? Sky Map AR basically.

This is so cool! Using streetview really matters for some reason, it made it totally obvious where the thing was going to appear. Great job.

It sounds great, but needs WebGL. So not for me.

I wonder if it really needed WegGL. Sigh.

Edit: With WebGL enabled, sites can fingerprint VMs. So multiple Debian-family VMs on the same host will have the same fingerprint. VMs with different virtual graphics stacks do have different fingerprints, however. Or Debian-family VMs on different host machines. That's why no WebGL for me.

Kudos! Very nicely done. It would be nice to have an easy way to see more details about the satellite. For example, I see that tonight I can see CZ-2C R/B, though without a search I do not quite know anything more about the satellite.

Also like the night mode in the street view. Does that come with the Google Maps API or something you had to build?

Good suggestion, I'd like to add some info about the satellites. I made the "night mode" for Street View with an SVG filter applied to the street view canvas with CSS.

"This browser doesn't support the API's required to use the firebase SDK. (messaging/unsupported-browser)."


Firefox, macOS

Hmm, old version maybe? I can't reproduce this on Firefox 68 or 69 on macOS.

Firefox 69, macOS 10.14.6 ️

Strange. Perhaps an installed extension? Anyway, I catch this error now so it shouldn't interrupt your use of the site (except that notifications won't work).

Perfect use for tech—bravo!

Can you do this with airplanes too? Might be fun to "see" where they're from/going.

Tonight I saw what I thought are three different satellites. Then I went to your website, however I was not able to look back in the past. I modified system time back two hours to learn about what I saw. So there: a feature proposal: a possibility to look back to learn what one has watched.

This is such a great example of building products that serve the need of the customer - nails it with zero ambiguity. Please blog about how you did it, software stack, your thought process and be it a reminder that deep thoughtful approach towards a problem can deliver exceptional results.

That street view simulation is.... epic. Some of the sweetest dev I've seen this year.

This is great! Just wanted to ask did you miss out Iridium flares due to API quota but then found out on HA that the next one is in 10 days for my location (northern Serbia). They were much more frequent last time I checked (10 years ago)

The new generation of Iridium satellites don't flare. All of the next-gen satellites were launched over the past couple years, and the older generation is being phased out (and deorbited) as the new ones come online.

Yeah, I think the satellites that made flares are getting deorbited now. I don't support showing Iridium flares. It's more complex to calculate them because they are specular reflections instead of diffuse and so they require knowing the orientation of the satellite very accurately.

This is ingenious! Love the use of Google Street View.

Reminds me of a small project I put together which offered a reverse perspective of the ISS: http://www.loworbit.co/

Are the hours in my local TimeZone, in GMT or in the timezone of the developer?

Local time as determined by your browser settings.

I'd recommend showing this + the time zone (e.g. "browser local time, UTC+2"). My guess was that it's the local time of the location entered, which can matter when telling someone "hey, you'll be able to see a cool satellite looking out your northward window at 9 pm!". If you're worried about keeping a clean look, at least add a tooltip.

(I've also been trained to distrust any time that doesn't specify a time zone, because I've seen sites that default to some random US timezone, use your local time, use UTC, ...)

> I've also been trained to distrust any time that doesn't specify a time zone

My pet peeve is status pages that only show times in some US timezone. I'm supposed to know what the conversion from that timezone to my timezone is, and then the timezone to my servers (which are in UTC)...

Wow...I basically never let webpages use my location, but I did for this one, and it landed about 200 feet from my apartment. That's crazy accurate! How can an IP be linked to a geolocation that closely?

Are you using Chrome? It’s probably not geo IP.

Yeah, geo ip doesn't need permission to work (modulo privacy), that will all be done server side.

Okay, so then how does a website know my location to 200 feet?

If you grant location access there is a fast/low accuracy response, and the site can request a slow/high accuracy response which would be your exact GPS location, potentially down to the meter.


I'm on a desktop though - no GPS/wifi.

If you're using Chrome, Google knows your location through your phone (and Google Maps, if you're on an iPhone)

If you're on mac and have an iPhone, same thing is happening across the whole OS.

Available WiFis, even if you're not connected to one, will be used by your OS to provide location as well.

This uses the basic Geolocation API, you can look up how your computer figures out its location for more detailed info.


If you don't have Wifi on, maybe you had it before, and Google saved your location based on it?

Awesome, my dad is gonna love this. I've been using the "ISS detector" app. it has a compass that when you line it up with your phone, it points to the object you're trying to track.

Is there a site which lists all known satellites in orbit and their trajectories?

Upon sitting on a roof some weeks ago in Texas, I thought I spotted at least 5 or 6+ within 30 minutes. Is this probable?

Heavens Above will give you a list of all satellites passing overhead. If you go to "Daily predictions of brighter satellites" it will give a big list of satellites that should be visible from your location. The lower the magnitude, the brighter it will be.

In a city you obviously aren't going to see much because of light pollution (although the ISS is one of the brightest objects, so it should be visible in most cities). If you go to the middle of nowhere, and give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness (around 30 mins), you will see satellites basically all the time and may even see the milky way (it looks like the pictures, but black and white as our eyes can't pick up enough light to detect the colour).


I think there are several hundred thousand man made objects in orbit around the Earth...

If you ever want to get depressed about how humans have ruined the space around our planet... http://stuffin.space/

Absolutely. Away from the city here in Australia you'll see that many.

This is really cool! Love the street view visualization! I have a request though. To save time searching for the satellite is there anyway you could provide info to what it is as well?

I used to wonder what those small pricks of light were, that would travel accross the night sky. Then someone told me they were satellites, and my whole UFO dream was busted. :)

This is amazing. LOVE how you did the Street View integration!


Entering my address and hitting GO does nothing...

But I love the idea. However it showed me the times and the satellite but I can’t click on the satellite and see what it does :-(

(I’m in Santa Rosa on an iPad)

Sorry to hear that. What generation iPad and version of iOS? I've only tested on the latest.

Awesome service! However notifications don't seem to work in Safari. It says "Notifications not allowed" in spite of me having set it to allowed.

Hmm, I'm using FCM for notifications, maybe it behaves differently in Safari. I'll take a look later. Thanks for the report.

Turns out Safari doesn't support the standard way of doing push notifications. https://www.caniuse.com/#feat=push-api

Until they do, I'll hide the notifications button in Safari.

Thanks for looking into it!

I click on "See where it will appear in the sky", the view just clears an nothing happens. I see black stuff. Nothing on it. In any browser.

Thank you for sharing this. My wife and I got to see the ISS fly across the sky, and we knew exactly where and when to look. I really appreciate it!

You can use Stellarium for that as well: https://stellarium.org

Wow this is fantastic. Just saw it streaming across the sky evening in oakland it is possible to see it with all the light pollution!

This is such a cool app, whoever built it, how did you map the trajectory on Google Street View with animation?

Thanks! I'm using the same library that displays the 3D globe view, CesiumJS. I feed it the camera parameters from the Street View API and from that it can calculate the coordinates of the satellite on screen. I take those coordinates and use the 2D canvas API to draw the satellite dot and label. The 2D canvas is overlaid on top of Street View with some basic CSS.

very nice

Watched the ISS pass overhead with my family in our backyard last night. Thank you for creating this!

Awesome! I will try to use this soon.

Wow! Great work!

The next thing that would be useful is an AR integration. I’d prefer that over google street view.

Wow, this is really great! The street view feature is a revelation man. Excellent project!

You need to add og:image to this site so facebook sharing is more effective.

Thanks! og:image is there, is it not working for you? It's nothing fancy, just a screenshot of the site.

huh - it didn't popup for me when I pasted the link to facebook.

Amazing app. Really sad it doesn't work in Firefox (mobile) though :-(

Sorry to hear that it doesn't work for you. It does work for me but it is very slow unfortunately.

Really great! Too bad there isn't Street View available everywhere :(

This was a reminder to try to contact the ISS using amateur radio.

This is great. Even displays the cloud cover forecast. Love it.

I just saw the ISS with my kids (3 and 6). They were so excited.

Thank you!

That integration with street-view is awesome!!

I saw the ISS last night. This app is great!

This is great. I am gonna try it today

there’s a great app called iss spotter that will tell you how to see the space station

Kudos. An amazing app! Nice job.

Is the time in local timezone ?

Nice.. really well done!

Also check out Sky Guide[0].

It's an iOS app that (among many other awesome things) tracks 250+ satellites - and can send a notification before they pass over your location[1].

[0] https://apps.apple.com/us/app/sky-guide/id576588894

[1] https://www.fifthstarlabs.com/support#satellites

Cool concept but the implementation is terrible. Just give me a button to input my own location. Not to mention the dot on the globe is about 3,000 miles from the street view it gives me.

That is likely to happen if you decline location permission and the IP geolocation fallback is inaccurate. If you try on your phone it should get an accurate GPS location. Adding a way to manually override the location by specifying latitude and longitude is on my to-do list.

If my apartment windows opened I could throw a rock to the spot where the streetview was taken from (though that would probably bother some people). While I agree a custom input location would be cool I suspect it's because you didn't ok the geo permission.

(Edit: ninja-ed)

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