Captain Rick: The International Space Station is the brightest, fastest moving object in the sky just before dawn or after sunset for those in the perfect, ever-changing location. The ISS, the size of a football field, is the largest structure in earth orbit. The ISS is orbiting about 250 miles up and traveling at a speed of over 17,000 mph. It travels from the western to eastern horizon in less than 10 minutes. It appears to move faster than a commercial plane at cruising altitude and brighter than any star. Its an awesome spectacle that can be observed by almost anyone on earth at the right time.
The ISS revolves around the earth every 93 minutes. It makes 15 revolutions per day. Each pass moves about 1500 miles to the west, due to earths eastward rotation. Its path follows a sine wave on a ‘flat map’, as shown below, because its orbit is skewed at an angle with reference to earth’s equator. This allows the ISS to fly over areas between 52 degrees latitude north or south of the equator, making it accessible from Russian launch sites, which are farther north than those in the US.
View the ISS: To view the ISS, it must pass over your area about 1 hour before sunrise or 1 hour after sunset, so that the sun’s rays illuminate it against a dark night sky. Most places on earth will experience one or more good viewings of the ISS each month. The best view of the ISS happens when it passes directly overhead (its closest encounter), during the pre-sunrise/post-sunset window. This is rare occurrence for any given spot on earth…so when it happens in your area, you must be prepared.
Captain Rick’s eyewitness sighting: I witnessed the ISS race over Gilbert, Arizona at 4:48 AM a few days ago. It was the first time I had ever seen it. I was amazed by its speed and brightness. It out-raced and out-shined anything in the sky. The ISS is indeed an experience that everyone should witness. It only spends a few minutes traveling from one horizon to the other. I caution…to see it, you have to be prepared with its timing and trajectory. I have provided some great tools to help you capture a glimpse of the ISS as it streaks over your area…
Track the ISS as it orbits earth, as seen in the image above: http://www.isstracker.com/
When will the ISS pass over your area? NASA has the answer. You can sign up for email alerts: http://spotthestation.nasa.gov/sightings/#.Ujen9Ojn-cx
Captain Rick presents sighting info and updates in comments below: Check out the comment feed below for great ISS sighting information and eyewitness reports from ISS viewers and yours truly…
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