The Boeing X-37, the Air Force's robotic space plane and forerunner of the next space shuttle, launched back in April for its first orbital test. Now it's been spotted - and there's even an iPhone app to track it anywhere.

Although it was launched on April 22, it wasn't until a few days ago that amateur astronomers and satellite spotters managed to find the plane's orbit. Two separate astronomers in Canada and another in South Africa pooled their findings to triangulate the location of the plane and figure out its orbit.


A man in Fort Davis, Texas was able to take a photo of the plane on Sunday, which you can see above. The plane is fairly visible for a man-made object; the photographer estimates its magnitude to be about +2.8 (on a scale of about 30 to -30, with negative numbers being brighter). That makes it brighter than either Uranus or the Andromeda Galaxy, and roughly as bright as the stars of the Big Dipper.

You too can keep tabs on the space plane - and, indeed, any other satellite - using your computer or even just your iPhone. The Satellite Flybys app has a one-week schedule and a flyby countdown clock that gets you ready to find the plane, then directional info that tells you exactly where to look. It takes all the work out of amateur astronomy, although hopefully not the fun.


[Space Weather]