I’ve always joked with my community ed astronomy class students that one day I’d be replaced by a mobile phone app. The writing’s on the wall.
NASA recently introduced a new free service called Spot the Station that will alert you by e-mail or text message several hours before the International Space Station (ISS) is predicted to make a pass over your town.
Just go to the website and sign up. Mission Control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, makes predictions for 4,600 locations worldwide. Don’t worry if your specific location isn’t on the list. Since the space station is visible from a large area, pick the closest town and your time will easily be within a few minutes of the correct one.
One other small caveat. NASA will only alert the “good” passes when the station reaches an altitude of 40 degrees or more. No problem there. Those are the ones most of us want to see anyway.
In the diagram above, based on the alert, the station first becomes easily visible 10 degrees above the west-southwest horizon at 7:45 p.m. 10 degrees is equal to one fist held vertically with the bottom touching the horizon. Maximum altitude of 66 degrees is reached a couple minutes later. Since the horizon is 0 degrees and the top of the sky is 90 degrees, 66 degrees is two-thirds of the way up from the horizon or about 6.5 fists high. Finally, the ISS remains in view for 4 minutes before disappearing in the northeastern sky.
It’s pretty slick. I even signed up to check it out. For old time’s sake, I’ll still update the blog with pass times for the Duluth, Minn. region along with interesting particulars like when the ISS disappears into Earth’s shadow or glides by a bright planet or star. Don’t forget, you can also get pass times at Spaceweather’s Satellite Flybys site by keying in your zip code and great maps and times at Heavens Above.
A new round of passes begins tomorrow morning for North America. When you go out to watch, look for a brilliant, pale yellow star moving about as fast as a high-flying plane from west to east. The station typically takes about 5 minutes to travel from one end of the sky to the other.
TIMES FOR THE DULUTH REGION:
* Mon. Nov. 12 beginning at 5:46 a.m. low in south-southeast. Passes right over Venus about 5:49 a.m. Be sure to watch for the thin crescent moon and Saturn low in the southeast below Venus around 6 a.m. local time. More info HERE.
* Tues. Nov. 13 at 6:32 a.m. High, brilliant pass in the south during morning twilight
* Weds. Nov. 14 at 5:43 a.m. across the south-southeast
* Thurs. Nov. 15 at 4:55 a.m. in the southeastern sky above Venus. Second pass high in the northern sky at 6:29 a.m.
* Fri. Nov. 16 at 5:41 a.m. Brilliant pass across the top of the sky. Best of the week!
* Sat. Nov. 17 at 4:54 a.m. Brief appearance in the eastern sky. Second flyby at 6:27 a.m. across the northern sky
* Sun. Nov. 18 at 5:40 a.m. across the northern sky