It's overwhelming to see how many planes are in the air right now

It’s overwhelming to think about the number of planes in the air at any given time. Seeing it for yourself is something else entirely.

One great way to see all this data in a visual way is Flightradar 24, a flight tracking service that shows information about thousands of aircrafts in real-time.

It’s available for free online, and the service also has mobile applications for iOS, Android, and Windows.

Here’s a look at the service and how it works.

The first thing you see when you visit Flightradar 24 is a map of the world with a bunch of tiny yellow planes. Here's a close-up of New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

And here's what it looks like as you start to zoom out.

Flightradar 24 collects its information from several sources, including display data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

It also collects information using a technology called automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B), which relies on transponders placed on each aircraft to provide data like identifying information, altitude and velocity.

ADS-B technology is still relatively new, but Flightradar 24 estimates that 70% of all commercial aircrafts are equipped with these special transponders, which helps Flightradar stay accurate and up-to-date.

As we continue to zoom out, here's where the number of planes in the air starts to get overwhelming.

To track aircrafts without that ADS-B technology, Flightradar 24 uses a method called Time Difference of Arrival (TDOA).

It essentially involves measuring the time it takes to receive signals from older Mode-S transponders to calculate the positions of those older aircrafts.

Now we're starting to see a bit more of Canada and the Atlantic Ocean.

Europe and South America come into view.

And finally, here's all the flights being tracked around in the world. Worth noting: Africa has considerably fewer flights despite the size of the continent, and we hardly see any flights over Russian air space.

To track a specific flight -- maybe a friend or loved one is travelling right now -- you can search for the flight number or airport, or you can click on any plane icon to learn more about its features and current position.

The left panel also includes an option to see a 3D representation of that very plane flying over the map.

While in 3D mode, other planes can and will show up in your view. Clicking on those planes lets you learn more about those flights.

It's really cool to hone in on one flight and see its trajectory: how it left the airport...

...and the unique flight path it takes to reach its destination in the quickest, most efficient way possible. Who knew travelling from New York to South Korea required so much flying over the Arctic Circle?

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