With the next mission of the shuttle ready to launch next week, circumstances have again allowed people to see the International Space Station (ISS) in the evening sky.
Normally, as the station orbits above the earth, it is visible in either the morning or evening sky, but during shuttle missions the station conveniently travels over the heads of the people of Michigan in the evening.
There are several times in which to see ISS, and they vary in brightness, time of night, and height over the horizon. The station’s orbit is inclined near 52° from the equator and, as the Earth rotates underneath it, the station appears to shift it’s orbit to the west as it goes overhead every (approximately) ninety minutes. So one pass it might rise in the WSW at 9.30pm, and travel 56° and disappear in the NE sky, and 90 minutes later it might just show up low in the NW sky.
This orbital dance is also what causes the differences in brightness. The reason we see the station – and all satellite – is that they are reflecting the sunlight. The ISS has huge reflective solar panels that give the station power, but they also reflect the sunlight striking them as well. If the sunlight gets reflected toward Earth, and you happen to be in the right place, you will see the station fly over.
There is a site on the internet that gives times when ISS, as well as other satellites, and even the shuttle when it is flying, is visible from your area. It is called “Heaven’s Above” and can be found at Heavens-Above.com.
All you have to do is input your location, and the site will generate timings for your area. For those of you in Grand Rapids, here is the address for you:
(If you don’t live in Grand Rapids, or want to get more precise sighting times, you can input your latitude and longitude and get timings for your own house.)
Once you get there, just read the information available to find the information you want. Then, if it’s clear, go outside and watch an actual spacecraft travel over your head.
And go ahead and wave if you want to. The astronauts won’t see you, but they will appreciate the support.