27 January 2013

Seeing the International Space Station

International Space Station
The International Space Station, or ISS, is a wonderful sight to see. It is Earth's 2nd largest satellite (after the Moon, of course). The ISS shines brightly because of the reflective surfaces across its trusses that shine brightly in the sunlight, and make the ISS look like a bright planet that moves relatively quickly across the sky.

The ISS only appears in the sky for a short while after sunset, or before sunrise. It is in orbit about 225 miles above the surface of the Earth; for example, shortly after a sunset the ISS catches sunlight and shines as it travels across the sky. When you get a very good alignment and it passes nearly overhead, it can reach the same magnitude as a bright Venus, and therefore be easy to spot. On such a pass, it takes about 5 minutes to travel from horizon to horizon, covering over 1000 miles in that time.

ISS visibility depends upon your location on Earth, since the best times to see the ISS in one part of the globe won't be the same as another. NASA has an an excellent web resource for this; for ISS sightings in San Francisco, we have morning passes right now, and will soon have good visibility in the evenings starting on February 5th. The iPhone app ISS Visibility is quite helpful for locating the ISS, with maps and easy-to-follow directions.

Best of luck seeing this wonderful sight. Image courtesy of NASA.

1 comment:

Gunnar Campbell said...

I remember I was attending a baseball game in my town and I looked up and saw the ISS move across the sky. It's truly an amazing example of how far we've come as a species.