ISS And ATV-5: Watch ’em Both Fly By

30-second time exposure of the space station cutting across the Big Dipper at about 10:37 p.m. last night Aug. 6, 2014. Bob King

In this earlier article I mentioned that you could watch the International Space Station (ISS) and the cargo ship ATV-5 (Georges Lemaitre) cross the sky within a few minutes of each other. I’ve seen them pass by twice, Sunday and last night. Even in moonlight, they were easy to track.

ATV-5 cargo ship passes through the Big Dipper on a slightly different orbit 28 minutes later last night. Bob King

Being much larger with lots of highly reflective solar panels, the ISS is naturally much brighter than ATV-5. Their brightnesses vary depending on the pass, but if the ISS resembles Jupiter or Venus, the cargo ship is more like an average bright star.

You can watch for them through August 12 when the ship docks with the space station. Both travel from west to east. Go to Heavens Above for times and direction to look for your town. Below is a list of times for the Duluth, Minn. region:

* Tonight Aug. 7, the ISS appears in the west starting at 9:47 p.m. and crosses the northern sky. ATV-5 follows at 9:51 p.m.
* Friday Aug. 8 starting at 8:58 p.m. across the top of the sky. Brilliant pass! ATV-5  comes much later at 10:14 p.m. across the northern sky.
* Saturday Aug. 9, ATV-5 at 9:02 p.m. across the north with the ISS at 9:46 p.m. across the north.

8 Responses

  1. Neeley

    Happened to catch the ISS the other night when I was outside with my neighbor girls. The younger one thought that I meant it was a space SHIP, and got scared until I explained to her what the ISS was lol.

  2. Phil A.

    Thanks Bob, and I did what you said!.- was able to see- track the tiny form of I.S.S. in my Astrobino’s. 20X- 65’s. (too fast for my telescopes), but the shiny tiny form from the giant golden solar panels was Cool…

  3. RC

    Why does the time between the two vary like it does? 3 minutes tonight, 1 hour and 16 minutes tomorrow, and then 44 minutes on Saturday. Isn’t ATV-5 “catching up” to the ISS? Shouldn’t these times consistently get smaller?

    1. astrobob

      Good question. I double checked the times when I saw the gap of 45 minutes, but it’s for real. All I can figure is that maneuvers are scheduled until the final docking.

  4. Norman Sanker

    Hey Bob,

    I remember reading sci-fi books where space stations passing overhead were just part of the skyscape. Now we have one but few folks seem to know. My wife and I once exited an event at her daughter’s middle school just when the ISS was going over. Some in the sizeable crowd noticed our looking up and asked: “What is it?” You would hope that people leaving a school event would know the ISS when they saw it. You’re helping there and thanks for it. On a different note. EarthSky today featured a beautiful picture of M33. Looking at its face-on, kind of gauzy structure, I thought how obvious a supernova would be in that galaxy. (The one in M65 blew my mind.) I Googled “supernovas in the Triangulum Spiral” and found that none have been observed! Remnants, yes–but none caught in the act. Can that be true? If so, it’s another of those long-overdue events. I’m going to be stupidly optimistic, go w-a-y out on a limb, and predict that you and I, Bob, will live to see a supernova in M33. Such an event would be naked-eye, wouldn’t it? Probably brighter than that whole, ghostly galaxy concentrated into a single point. I can’t wait but am not going to hold my breath. Later.

    Norman Sanker

    1. astrobob

      Amazingly, I’ve never heard of a supernova in M33. M31, yes (just one recorded) but not M33. I agree, it might just be naked eye as was the M31 supernova back in 1885 which reached magnitude 5.9.

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