Track the International Space Station

Did you know the International Space Station (ISS) is visible to the unaided eye? In fact, it is the third brightest object in the sky, after the sun and moon, but you do need to know where to look and when. Because the ISS has a highly inclined orbit and the Earth spins as the ISS orbits it, it’s hard to know for sure the station’s position in the sky in relation to your position on the ground. But NASA has an easy solution for anyone interested in observing the ISS.

Astronauts working at the International Space Station

Astronauts working at the International Space Station

Fortunately, you can subscribe to a daily email alert operated by NASA. It will tell you, in a very brief message suitable for smartphones, when and where to look for the ISS on the next morning or evening in your geographic area. NASA says they will only alert you to the best sighting opportunities, that are high enough in the sky (40 degrees or more) and last long enough to give you the best view of the orbiting laboratory. For example, the alert I received just before 7 pm today (Jan. 23, 2013), says:

Time: Thu Jan 24 6:09 AM, Visible: 2 min, Max Height: 79 degrees, Appears: WNW, Disappears: E

This tells me that at 6:09 tomorrow morning, the ISS will pass over in only 2 minutes from approx. the west to the east and it will be almost overhead (79 degrees) at its highest point.

To receive these alerts, just visit NASA’s Spot the Station website and select your country, region and city. Nanaimo is the nearest option for the Ladysmith area. Then you click Next, enter your email and confirm your subscription by receiving a code from NASA that you type back into the website. Then sit back and wait for your next alert email.

If you’re lucky enough to have clear skies for your sighting, this is what you might see.

ISS as seen from ground

This composite of 70 exposures shows the trail of the ISS (with gaps between exposures) as it moved left to right over the city of Tübingen in southern Germany on February 7, 2008. As seen from Tübingen, the passage took about 4 minutes. (Till Credner via NASA)



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