Has anyone been out in the evening to watch the International Space Station fly overhead? If not, you still have a chance. In fact, several each night for the next few weeks.
The reason is that, due to the station’s orbit around the Earth, and Earth’s orbit around the sun, the station is almost in constant sunlight at this time. So the normal morning or evening visible passes are doubled, or even tripled, in some instances.
As was written back in August of last year, there are reasons why the station varies in brightness, and also where you see it in the sky. An excellent place to find out when it will be visible is Heavens-Above.com, were all you have to do is input your location (you can do it via city, or latitude and longitude) and the site will generate predictions for your location (it also shows when other satellites, and the space shuttle – when flying – are visible). As a courtesy, we have included a link for Grand Rapids predictions in the right sidebar.
Friday evening’s flyover was extremely bright. The only objects in the night sky brighter than ISS are the moon and the planet Venus.
In the photograph above (click on the pic for a larger version), the space station is shown flying over the James C. Veen Observatory on the evening of May 23rd. The station is approximately 200 miles above the Earth, orbiting at just over 17,000 miles per hour. In the image, the station traveled almost 100 miles in the short time it took to make the exposure.
The predicted passes for the next week do not have the space station as bright, but it will still be unmistakable in the evening (and nighttime) skies. And as an added bonus, the flyovers at the beginning of June will also feature the space shuttle Discovery, which lifts off May 31 on a mission to deliver a new module to the space station.
So if you have clear skies, go out some evening and look up to see the space station fly over your town. Wave if you wish – the astronauts can’t see you, but they will appreciate the support. And make sure you get your kids to see this.