Changing Planet

Spot the Space Station From Dusk Till Dawn

When the International Space Station is at its brightest, only the Sun and Moon can outshine it in the sky. Courtesy: NASA
When the International Space Station is at its brightest, only the Sun and Moon can outshine it in the sky. Courtesy: NASA

Sky-watchers across most of the Northern Hemisphere can observe the International Space Station (ISS) make multiple flybys in the sky every day over the next week.

As long as skies stay clear through June 10 (depending on your location), the orbiting laboratory will appear as a bright white star gliding silently across the overhead sky in a matter of 2 to 5 minutes three, four and even five times from dusk til dawn.

The ISS is normally sunlit 70 percent of the time, offering observers a more modest one or two viewings a night.

However, once a year the high-flying facility’s 90-minute orbit closely parallels the day-night terminator of the Earth for a period of about a week. That allows it to bathe in near-continuous sunlight, illuminating the orbiting lab for sky-watchers between northern latitudes of 40° to 55°. That’s roughly north of Rome (or Philadelphia) to south of Moscow.

For Toronto, Canada, residents, for example, on Sunday, June 1, the ISS will make four highly visible flybys at 12:23 a.m., 03:34 a.m., 05:11 a.m., 11:31 p.m. The New York City region will get five bright flybys on June 1 at 12:23 a.m., 1:59 a.m., 3:36 a.m., 10:00 p.m., and 11:32 p.m.

The biggest spaceship ever built, the ISS is about the size of a football field and is covered with shiny metal surfaces. It also has lots of highly reflective solar panels. That makes it easily visible with the naked eye, even from light-polluted city centers.

In fact, on some flybys, when the solar panels are oriented just right, the station’s brightness can be on par with planet Venus, now shining like a beacon in the western sky after dark, the second brightest celestial object in the night sky after the moon.

The International Space Station appears to streak across the sky in a matter of only a few minutes. Credit: Andrew Fazekas
The International Space Station appears to streak across the sky in a matter of only a few minutes. Credit: Andrew Fazekas

Orbiting about 280 miles up and traveling 17,000 miles an hour, the manned satellite looks like a brilliant star gliding swiftly across the sky. It’s also easily discernible from a passing plane because the space outpost will shine with a white, unblinking light.

For added sport, in recent years backyard telescope users have been able to track down and  photograph the orbiting laboratory, sometimes even when it is transiting in front of the moon.

 

Larger amateur telescopes that can track the quick movement of the ISS across the sky reveal real details of the station’s modules and solar panels.

 

 

The trick to catching all this celestial action is knowing when and where to look up. In the Internet age this is made easy thanks to handy satellite prediction services, including heavens-above.com  and  spaceweather.com.  All you have to enter is your zip or postal code, city name, or even your latitude and longitude, and a personalized viewing timetable is generated.

So grab the next clear night this week and watch the International Space Station make multiple flybys above your backyard.

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on TwitterFacebook, and his website.

 

 

Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.

  • Peter Parkin

    May I be on your listing to be e-mailed when ISS is travelling over Adelaide.

    Many thanks P. Parkin.

  • Peter Parkin

    May I be on your listing to be e-mailed when ISS is travelling over Adelaide.

    Many thanks P. Parkin.

  • Faye Tackett

    Thank you so much forcall the info you share about the night sky…we have a telescope and the whole family loves to spend time together watching this amazing universe…

  • Faye Tackett

    Thank you so much forcall the info you share about the night sky…we have a telescope and the whole family loves to spend time together watching this amazing universe…

  • Ritwik Das

    when can it be seen from India??

  • Ritwik Das

    when can it be seen from India??

  • Pat woods

    Wow can’t wait to see!

  • Pat woods

    Wow can’t wait to see!

  • JUAN ÁNGEL ARIOTTI

    QUE BUENA NOTICIA.

  • Shriyash Shinde

    Wow, will be seeing trails of Space Station first time, yea.
    but can I see it from Pune, India?

  • Shriyash Shinde

    Wow, will be seeing trails of Space Station first time, yea.
    but can I see it from Pune, India?

  • laura sajor

    May I be one in your listing when ISS is travelling?
    Thank u so much.I’m so grateful to have that.

  • laura sajor

    May I be one in your listing when ISS is travelling?
    Thank u so much.I’m so grateful to have that.

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