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Picture of five satellites in geostationary orbit taken from earth.

Image of satellites in geo-orbit, taken with ground camera

This is a photograph of several closely spaced geostationary orbit satellites around 259E/101W orbit longitude.

The satellites are believed to be DBS2, DBS 3, AMSC1, ASC 2 and DirectTV-1R.   They are visibly approx 0.18 deg apart.  The angular geostationary orbit locations are somewhat closer together, as such angles are taken from the centre of the earth rather than the surface.  If you already know your latitude and longitude then for your dish pointing angles see my satellite dish pointing page.

If you do not know your lat/long go to this page: latitude longitude finder which allows you to find your location on a map of the world. It then shows you with a blue line the direction of the satellite.

This picture above is a tiny fragment (approx 1 deg wide) taken from a full frame some 20 deg wide.  The camera used a 80mm lens at f6.3    Camera location was on a rock at Kitt Peak, USA, facing south and upwards somewhat. The time exposure of several hours results in stars leaving curved lines across the image, as the earth rotates.  Two very faint stars have left such lines straight across the full width of the picture above. The lower line is the more obvious. The upper line is hardly detectable above the background image noise. The slight curvature of these two lines is not detectable in this small fragment of the frame.

The picture is small to speed up your download. A larger field picture is spectacular with many bright and coloured curved star lines across the full width. The satellites appear along a single curved line as hardly visible fixed dots. See the NOAO link below for other pictures.

The geostationary satellites each show a small degree of independent movement over several hours which has caused the satellite image to be a very short curving line rather than a fixed dot. The varying density of the lines is thought to be due to the brightness changing with time as the sun reflection angle changes.  The orbits are not exactly stationary and appear as small ellipse, circle or figure of 8 each day.  The maximum excursion is normally maintained to +/- 0.1 deg East-West and North-South by brief thruster firings every week or so. An old satellite (not shown here), which has lost attitude control and it slowly tumbling in an inclined orbit is seen as a row of dots. The diameter (size) of the satellite images relates to their brightness rather than the dimensions of the satellites.

Without regular station keeping, the North-South inclination increases at about 0.8 deg per annum.  Older satellites, with minimal fuel remaining, may have North-South movements of several degrees each day.

The photo was taken by Bill Livingston and further pictures are at: http://www.noao.edu/

For people visiting this page and hoping to see pictures of the earth ground as seen from space orbit here are three good links:

Do it yourself satellite maps showing your latitude and longitude

Do it yourself satellite image photos of your home

Images as seen from space

Do it yourself now earth views from space

My general pictures of rockets and  satellites etc. gallery.


Other web site picture links regarding pictures of satellites as seen from the ground:

Visual Satellite Observations http://satobs.org/

Pictures of satellites taken by Robert Keddie using 300mm lens at f/5.6 and 400ASA film. exposure = about 25 minutes

Updated 23 Dec 2004, 10 Feb 2015