Stellarium – Find the Humanity Star

A new satellite called the Humanity Star looks like a disco ball

Looking for information on how to track the Humanity Star location using Stellarium astronomy software?

Here is a quick tutorial on how to find the Humanity Star using Stellarium.

You can track the position of the Humanity Star with Stellarium
The Humanity Star satellite before launch – still on the Earth.

Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck announced that the company’s rocket had placed a special satellite in a 90 minute orbit around the Earth.

A lot of people want to see this new “star” in the sky. Stellarium can help you do that.

If you don’t have Stellarium, you can download a copy here. And I have a few tutorials that can help you get started with this amazing piece of software.

Tutorial – use Stellarium to find the Humanity Star satellite

First, you have to use the satellite database which is available in the Configurations > Plugins section of Stellarium.

Click on the wrench with the star, then click the Plugins tab, then scroll down until you see “Satellites” in the list on the left.

Stellarium configuration panels showing the satellites plugin which is needed to track the Humanity Star (it is a satellite after all)
Stellarium configuration window showing the satellites plugin.

Update the satellite data

Once you have done that (be sure to check “Load at startup” you will have a list of satellites to choose from. However, there are new objects launched into space every day, so this plugin has a button that says “Update Now”

Stellarium can hep you find the Humanity Star
Update the satellite list to get all the newest satellites – including the Humanity Star.

Search for the Humanity Star

Now, open the Search panel in Stellarium and type Humanity Star and hit the return key on the keyboard or click the magnifying glass button.

Stellarium search panel showing the Humanity Star as a findable object
Open the Search panel and type Humanity Star. Stellarium will find it.

Stellarium will highlight the Humanity Star. Hit the space bar to lock it into the view.

Time lapse

Now that Stellarium has locked the Humanity Star into the view center. You can speed up time by tapping the “L” key on the keyboard a few times. This will speed up the clock and show you where the Humanity Star is traveling in the sky.

Stellarium Humanity Star in the Constellation Cygnus in March 2018
Stellarium Humanity Star in the Constellation Cygnus in March 2018 as seen from the New York Metropolitan Area.

Predicting the brightness (magnitude) of the Humanity Star

By using this website, you can enter your location on Earth (in the top right of the page choose Location) and track many satellites and get predictions for when they will fly overhead.

The Humanity Star is one of several “satellites of special interest” so you can click on the link and see flyover predictions with magnitude estimates.

According to the satellite tracking website “Heavens Above” the Humanity Star is not one of the brightest objects in the sky. In the second week of March 2018, it ranges from magnitude 4.1 to 8.4. Magnitude 4.1 is just barely visible to the naked eye in light polluted suburban skies, but magnitude 8.4 is basically invisible under all normal viewing conditions.

This table shows the visibility and brightness prediction for the Humanity Star satellite
Table of predictions for the New York metropolitan area Humanity Star visibility and brightness.

I would love to hear if you were able to use these directions to find and see the Humanity Star in your area!

Clear Skies. Happy Humanity Star satellite hunting with Stellarium.

Quiz – Can we see the Sun at midnight? Where is it?

Can we see the Sun at midnight?

Yes. We can see the Sun at midnight. But, only if we are at one of the polar regions during the Summer season.

Image of the Sun's rays hitting the Earth. The Earth is tilted 23.4 degrees. Summer is when the northern hemisphere is titled toward the Sun. The summer Sun never sets - not even at midnight - if you are north of the Arctic Circle.
You can see the Sun at midnight! If you are at the North Pole in summer.

A quiz – seeing the Sun at midnight – don’t scroll til you try to answer!

When you see the Sun “rising” in the morning at dawn you are facing the east.

When you see the Sun “setting” at the end of the day you are facing the west.

Assuming you are not above the Arctic circle and not too close to the equator… if you could look right at the Sun (when the night is exactly half over) – by looking through the Earth – which cardinal direction would you be facing? East, West, North, or South?

Looking north or south to see the Sun at midnight?
A compass rose showing the cardinal directions.

Answer and Explanation

This quiz tests an observer’s ability to think about cardinal directions at the same time paying attention to meridian, time, and hemispherical location.

When we see the Sun “rising” in the morning at dawn we are facing the east.

When we see the Sun “setting” at the end of the day we are facing the west.

When we look at the Sun at noon in the northern hemisphere we are facing south.

SPOILER ALERT — And when we look at the Sun – as if the Earth were transparent – at midnight in the northern hemisphere we are facing north.

In the southern hemisphere sunrise and sunset appear in the same cardinal directions (East and West). But as we pretend that we can look through the Earth at the Sun… at midnight… we are facing south. See the diagram below.

Image of 2 stick figures on the the earth - one in the northern hemisphere, one in the southern hemisphere - looking through the Earth to ward the Sun at midnight
Observers in the northern hemisphere face North at midnight to “see” the Sun. Those in the southern hemisphere face south.

I welcome any and all observation and feedback on this quiz!

Contact me by clicking the blue bubble in the bottom right of this page.

See Mercury and Venus orbits during the day

Your hands and arms help you see the orbits of Mercury and Venus and the shape of solar system

Question: If you could see the orbit of Venus would it fill the whole sky?

The answer might surprise you!

You can use your hands and arms to see the size of the orbits of the solar system’s inner planets: Mercury and Venus.

Imagine (as pictured below) if the orbit of Mercury were visible as a red oval and the orbit of Venus were visible in green.

Use your hands and elbows to see Mercury and Venus orbits any time of day or night. The orbits of Mercury and Venus can be seen.
Two hand spans show Mercury’s orbit, elbows show Venus’s orbit.

Physical Astronomy – see Mercury and Venus orbits

Caution! Do not look directly at the Sun without proper solar safety glasses on.

Turn toward the Sun, hold your arms out straight, hands up in the air with fingers spread wide and thumbs touching. Your pinky fingers now span the width of the orbit of Mercury and your elbows span the width of the orbit of Venus.

Both of the entire orbits of Mercury and Venus orbits would be visible in the sky all at once – if they could be made visible during the day.

Continue reading “See Mercury and Venus orbits during the day”

Galaxy Rise

Physical Astronomy by Daniel Cummings

A still more glorious dawn awaits Not a sunrise, but a galaxy rise A morning filled with 400 billion suns The rising of the milky way.

The Sun rises. The Moon rises. Stars rise. The Galaxy rises – twice.

Each day the Earth rotates and sky objects (seem to) rise in the Eastern sky. The Sun, the Moon, the Stars, and the Galaxy rise at various times.

The Sun “rises” once-a-day at the start of the day.

The Moon “rises” once-a-day at different times of the day and night depending on the moon’s orbit around the Earth (its phase).

The Stars “rise” once-a-day – all night long, one after another and in groups.

The Milky Way Galaxy “rises” twice a day – once on its bright (center) side and then 12 hours later on its dim (outer arm) side.

We can orient our bodies to the rising of the Milky Way. And we can experience our daily movement as “plunging through” this flat disk of stars.

Continue reading “Galaxy Rise”

Walk to Mintaka

Physical Astronomy by Daniel Cummings
Mistakable rises toward the zenith as you walk toward the equator
As you walk toward the equator, Mintaka appears to rise higher in the sky.

In this post we will learn how to use one bright star of Orion’s belt to visualize the Earth’s equator.

Mintaka is a Star in Orion’s Belt

When you look up at the winter sky in the northern hemisphere, Orion and his famous belt are impossible to miss. The belt is made up of three stars of equal brightness.

One of these stars is called Mintaka and it is a guidepost for finding the Earth’s equator in space. Continue reading “Walk to Mintaka”

Arms around the ecliptic

Learn to see the ecliptic

Physical Astronomy by Daniel Cummings

Ecliptic Arms

The sun follows the same path through the sky every day.

Sun up. Noon. Sun down.

The sun starts the day in the east in the morning, rises high in the sky at noon, and settles down again in the west for a nap at night.

See the ecliptic

Here is an exercise to discover that path – the ecliptic.

Continue reading “Arms around the ecliptic”

Stars like ours – 9 bright “Life Stars”

Life Stars – Visible Exoplanets

Physical Astronomy by Daniel Cummings

Life Star in the night skyA “Life Star” is a visible star that could host life. This is a name I came up with in February 2017 (around the time of the TRAPPIST announcement) to describe visible stars with confirmed planets orbiting in the habitable zone. “Life Star” is easier to say and explain. I hope it catches on! Continue reading “Stars like ours – 9 bright “Life Stars””

Groundhog Day Shadow Tracker

Physical Astronomy Tool by Daniel Cummings

Groundhog Day Shadow Tracker Lesson Plan
It’s Groundhog Day!

What better way to celebrate Groundhog Day than to Build your own Groundhog Day Shadow Tracker

Let’s do some Physical Astronomy. The experience will help you to understand the movement of the earth and sun through the seasons. You will build a scientific instrument that is also a fun garden decoration and you will be able to track the Groundhog’s Shadow all Spring!

Continue reading “Groundhog Day Shadow Tracker”

A new star will appear in the sky in 2022

Binary star merge to form a new star - a star in a starAn amazing thing is about to happen! A Star in a Star will be born.

You  can witness the birth of a new star in the night sky.  The new Star already has a birthday: 2022!

According to scientists, the new star will form when two stars that are orbiting each other grow so close that they merge into one.

The new star will appear in the constellation Cygnus. You can see the approximate location marked by a red circle in the Stellarium screenshot here:

A screenshot of Stellarium showing the new star location under the constellation Cygnus's left wing

The image of the two blue stars on the home page of this Star in a Star site shows what scientists think it looks like now. This impressive video shows an artist’s rendering of the star merge.

In the pair, one star is larger than the other so in the end, there will be a new star…  A Star in a Star.