Yes, I have a new telescope. Cold winter nights in Georgia be danged, I’m out to explore the universe. My telescope gives me free access to the sky above me, yes. But access to the universe is actually better on my Mac.
I’m serious. First, I tried to check out the moon and the sun and nearby planets and various star cluster using the ‘scope. My Mac did a better job using SkyORB 3D. Then I tried something different.
How To View Satellites On A Mac
My neighbor came over with a few beverages to help me track the stars and the moon on my new toy. When that didn’t work, we tried to spot a few satellites floating overhead.
Have you ever tried to track a near earth moving object in a telescope? In a word, don’t.
Satellites, for all their stationary prowess, seem to move more than expected. Getting nowhere, we decided to put my Mac and Google to better use.
Google brought me to Freefall, a Mac and Windows application that, well, tracks satellites all over the earth.
What’s special about Freefall, besides the drop dead simple interface and easy search capability, and the fact that it makes my new Mincey Family Telescope a big paperweight with a lens, is the view.
I was trying to view satellites from my telescope here on earth; no mean feat. Freefall lets you view a bunch of satellites from the view of space—looking earthward from the sky, above the satellites—right on your Mac’s screen (click each image for a larger pop up view).
The image above is North America. Look at all the satellites floating around up there. Freefall lets you change the viewing speed from real time up to 1,000 times. Change perspective, search for specific satellites, or change to an entirely different continent. Check out Asia below. Not many satellites over Asia.
The Freefall interface is almost self explanatory, friendly to explore, and a far cry from the other sky watching software for Macs, SkyORB 3D (which views the universe from the earth, totally bypassing the satellites).
Click to view specific cities, change the time or perspective, or click on a specific satellite in the sky to get a detailed description of the satellite—latitude, longitude, launch date, altitude, and general purpose.
No offense is intended to the telescope makers of the world, and I’m sure that viewing the universe live, in real time, has benefits, but using my Mac on a cold Georgia night (not to mention the beverages) to scour the universe and the earth in stunning color is a tough act to follow.
The Geeky Details
Mac users beware. Freefall isn’t free. While it’s easier to use than SkyORB 3D, the interface is obviously inspired by scientific types who stare too long at one thing.
The toolbar icons are basic and self explanatory. Attempts at making Freefall pleasant are appreciated. Drag and drop a song from iTunes and play it while you’re scouring the satellites overhead.
Speaking of scour, use your mouse pointer to tilt and move the earth this way or that way, and the satellites, like hungry, silver, flying goldfish follow along. The Select Satellite Group pull down menu gives you a huge list of satellites, by grouping (duh).
Also impressive is how near and how far away from the earth some satellites are. From a few hundred miles to a few thousand miles. And the number of satellites out there. Shocking. Some of the description data is, well outdated, but the whole experience of tracking and viewing specific satellites in intriguing and pleasant.
It’s you and your Mac. Better than a telescope parked in the backyard of a suburban home on a cold winter night in Atlanta. And so ends Science Week on Mac360. I’m you’re host, Jeffrey Mincey, signing off.