Space station gets some company this weekend

5-minute exposure of stars reflected on the calm waters of Spring Lake north of Duluth, Minn. earlier this week. Photo: Bob King

If you haven’t seen the International Space Station (ISS) at dawn I understand your reluctance. Perhaps two additional enticements will coax you out before sunrise. Problems with a new rendezvous system on the Russian Progress M15-M supply ship prevented a successful docking with the ISS Tuesday. Bad news, right? Well yes and no. Mission controllers put Progress in a safe spot 1.8 miles below the station until the next docking attempt Sunday. That means a few more mornings of seeing the two travel together across the sky.

Wait, there’s more. The Japanese Kounotori 3 or “white stork” cargo-carrying vehicle is on its way to the station to deliver food, equipment and a module to deploy five nanosatellites (very small satellites) into orbit. Before it docks tomorrow morning July 27, you might also be able to see it.

Check out the bright gathering of Venus, Jupiter and Aldebaran in the eastern sky at dawn tomorrow. Created with Stellarium

Though considerably fainter than the ISS, Progress and Kounotori 3 should be visible following a short distance behind.

Use binoculars to help you spot them. To improve your chances, point the binoculars a little ahead of where the station is moving, let it pass through the field of view and keep watching the spot you’re aimed at for 15-30 seconds after. If your sky’s dark enough you should be able to see them with the naked eye.

Next, we check in on the planets. 90 minutes to an hour before sunrise face east to get an eyeful of planets and star clusters. The Pleiades, Hyades, Jupiter and Venus are gathered together on the sky stage like musicians at a chamber concert.

But wait, there’s even more! This weekend before dawn we get a visit from the annual Delta Aquarid meteor shower. I’ll have details on how to watch it and what to expect in tomorrow’s blog.

Space Station Viewing:
Times below are for the Duluth, Minn. region. To find passes for your town, log in to Heavens Above or type your zip code into Spaceweather’s Satellite Flybys page.

* Friday morning July 27 starting at 3:24 a.m. (CDT) almost straight overhead. Brilliant pass!
* Saturday July 28 at 4:06 a.m. Nice pass halfway up in the northern sky
* Sunday July 29 at 3:15 a.m. high in the north. Second pass at 4:50 a.m. also in the north.
* Monday July 30 at 3:56 a.m. ”     ”
* Tuesday July 31 at 3:05 and again at 4:40 a.m. ”     ”
* Wednesday August 1 at 3:48 a.m.

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About astrobob

My name is Bob King and I work at the Duluth News Tribune in Duluth, Minn. as a photographer and photo editor. I'm also an amateur astronomer and have been keen on the sky since age 11. My modest credentials include membership in the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) where I'm a regular contributor, International Meteorite Collectors Assn. and Arrowhead Astronomical Society. I also teach community education astronomy classes at our local planetarium.

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