This week will have several excellent passes of the International Space Station over the United States, so whether you’ve seen it dozens of times, or never spotted it before, this is your big chance!
Since the ISS orbits about 400 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, where you see it depends on where you are. There are a lot of apps and websites that can give you your viewing information. I usually use Heavens-Above.com—give it your latitude and longitude (or choose your location from a list) and it will give you times and maps of visible passes (as well as those of many other satellites).
Others include NASA’s Spot the Station, Astroviewer’s ISS observation site, ISS Tracker, and Space Weather’s Flyby page. There are so many apps for mobile devices it may be best to just tell you to search your platform’s store for them. If you have a favorite, tell everyone in the comments below!
Also, if you’re more techy-minded, you can get the ISS Above device, which lights up when the station is about to pass; it’s very cool, but it’s probably a wee bit late to get one for this week’s passes. Still, it’s fun and quite cool.
I really enjoy just going outside and watching the station move through the sky, but it’s also pretty rewarding to try to photograph it as well. I’ve written about it before.
If you have good equipment and perseverance, you can capture it through a telescope as well. No one is better at this than Thierry Legault, who seemingly routinely captures jaw-dropping photos and video of the ISS. Over the weekend he posted this astonishing video of it transiting the Sun:
Legault is a master. Not only that, he’s now literally written the book on astrophotography! Called Astrophotography, it’s a fantastic guide on taking pictures and video of the sky. It has a lot of information on what equipment to use, how cameras work, and details on the actual steps of taking the pictures and how to process them afterward. It’s an excellent read, worth it just for the pictures. Whether you’re just starting out taking shots of the sky, or you have lots of experience, this book should be within arm’s reach. I learned quite a bit from it, and I’m itching to try some of his techniques out.
Mind you, the holidays are coming up soon, too. I bet this would make a well-appreciated gift.
In the meantime, find out when and where to look for the space station to make an appearance. And remember: There are six people on board that dot of light screaming across the sky at eight kilometers per second. It’s an amazing thing to think about as you watch it.