This site tracks thousands of passenger planes as they fly around the world
At any given moment there are about 5,000 commercial airplanes in the sky over the United States, shuttling people from home to work to grandkids who’ve long moved away. Now you can see them all, in real time, on a map.
Flightradar24 pulls data from the Federal Aviation Administration in the United States and the automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) system in other countries. About 60 percent of the airplanes that carry passengers are equipped with ADS-B, so the map isn’t even showing every flight there is. Even still, zooming out a bit shows a mad cluster of planes over the U.S. and Europe.
The site explains which aircraft you can see and which don’t have the ADS-B transponder just yet:
Common aircraft models that have an ADS-B transponder and are visible on Flightradar24:
Common aircraft models that do not have an ADS-B transponder and are NOT visible on Flightradar24:
The data covers mostly the U.S. and Europe, leaving behind South America, Africa, Asia and Australia. That’s partially because the site relies on about 500 ADS-B responders on the ground to receive the airplane data. It invites anyone with an ADS-B responder to get involved, and you can buy your very own receiver for anywhere from $350 to several thousand dollars.
Now let’s zoom into just the United States. Here’s a video from Animated Atlas, a team that visualizes flights.
More from Smithsonian.com:
Music for Airports Soothes the Savage Passenger
Judging an Airline by its Uniform
Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.