This interactive 3D map of every object orbiting Earth is absolutely engrossing

Ever since the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik 1 in 1957, the human race grew an immense infatuation with shooting just about anything it could into orbit of the Earth. Today, with nearly 60 years of this behavior under our belt, the skies just outside Earth’s atmosphere have become quite congested.

Want some proof?

James Yoder, an incoming freshman at the University of Texas Austin, just published a site detailing every satellite, busted rocket, and piece of space junk currently orbiting Earth; and the finished product is utterly incredible. A simple trip to reveals an astounding map of the roughly 20,000 pieces of debris floating in space, as well as information pertaining to its launch year, velocity, altitude, and inclination. Clicking on any of the thousands of available dots reveals such information, and also displays the object’s orbiting flight path. Sandra Bullock would have been wise to check the site before suiting up in Gravity.

To make it easier to navigate — and wildly addicting — Yoder categorizes each piece of debris into three separate categories: red for satellites, blue for rocket bodies, and gray for debris. Looking for the camera Sunita Williams lost during her mission aboard the STS-116 in 2006? It’s likely one of the many gray dots scattered around the map. Though the information doesn’t specifically say what the debris is, the site does allow users to search for an object via its international designator code — because you know, who doesn’t have those handy?

The United States GPS satellite network
The United States GPS satellite network

In addition to offering space object positioning data, also provides independent flight paths of various groups, such as the satellite network responsible for GPS, as well as the massive payload delivery system, Ariane Sylda. When highlighted, the flight paths of these groups look like an incredibly artistic geometric group of roulette curves, or something you’d draw up using a Spirograph. Yoder even includes a group showing off the wreckage stemming from 2009’s Iridium 33 and Kosmos-2251 satellite collision. The hundreds — if not thousands — of pieces of debris cover Earth as if it were a ball of yarn. It’s thoroughly stunning.

Perhaps the website’s most incredible feature is the fact its creator commissioned this interactive, real-time map before even moving out of his parents’ house. An alumnus of the esteemed CRyptonite Robotics team at Cinco Ranch High School, Yoder plans to attend the University of Texas Austin this fall to study Electrical and Computer Engineering. I think it’s safe to say he’ll do perfectly well in the field considering he’s already created one of the most engrossing websites we’ve ever seen.

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