I have always been fascinated by space, and the skies above me, so being able to spot a spaceship going over my head takes me back to my days of watching the space shuttle launches on the telly all those years ago. I have been even more fascinated with space since we had a British Astronaut live on the space station. I can now put together my love of space and photography with a very easy to spot presence in the sky. In the first installment I will go into more detail on how to locate the ISS, with further installments on how to photograph the ISS.
Hold on, what’s the ISS?
The ISS or the International Space station is a spacecraft positioned 250km above the earth, built by collaboration of many countries around the world. It is home to up to 6 astronauts at a time who often live there for up to 6 months or more at a time. What makes this great is that it can be spotted in the sky with the naked eye, but using a camera or telescope you can see this in more detail. You can read more about the ISS on the NASA Website or on Wikipedia.
How to spot the ISS?
The ISS travels once around the earth every 90 minutes at around 28500 KMH or 17150 Mph, passing from west to east. The ISS does not pass over the same area or countries every day, so there are periods of time where you will be able to spot the ISS as this will not pass over where you live every day. The times of the pass will also differ dependent on the country you live in. Now you are probably thinking that this makes the ISS incredibly hard to spot, but fortunately there are many tools, websites and apps out there that give you the times and positions of the passes.
Let’s talk about websites and apps.
The most accessible way to access the dates and time of the passes is using a website provided by NASA, which is a great way to spot the ISS. I prefer to use a smart phone app such as Sky Guide iPhone or Star Walk on Android . The benefit of using an app is that the phone’s inbuilt GPS can easily locate the position of the ISS making it easy to spot, and the apps will provide notifications of when the ISS is going to pass over your head, so you should never miss a pass.
What to look out for?
The ISS is able to be seen due to the sun reflecting light of the large solar panels that ISS has, so can only be spotted in darkness. On a good clear day the ISS can pass for 5 minutes or more overhead, which makes it easy to spot. The ISS can often be seen as a large white dots traveling across the sky. When you first spot the ISS it can be mistaken for aircraft, but as you’ll find it travels much faster than a plane and is much brighter, it is also easier to spot as all aircraft have different colours of lights, whereas the ISS is a single bright light. Once you see it the first time, you will know what to look at every time. It is very easy to spot.
I hope you find this post useful and helps to spot the ISS more easily. Happy spotting! Be sure to tweet me if you spot it?