Photo: Dima Zel (Shutterstock)
When we think of the night sky, most people likely imagine constellations, planets, the moon, or even meteors on occasion. However, the third brightest object in the sky doesn’t fall into any of these categories. It is also constantly on the move. If you suspected it was the International Space Station (ISS), you’re right (or just looked at the photo at the top of the post.
The ISS is visible to the naked eye and looks like an airplane that moves particularly quickly. But your chances of seeing it aren’t the same every night. On some nights – like tonight and tomorrow evening – the ISS is at a height that makes it easier to see. Here’s what to know find the ISS this weekend (and anytime, really).
How to recognize the International Space Station
Technically, the ISS is visible quite often. What is special about this weekend, however, is that in many places it reaches a height that makes it easier to see than usual.
Not sure when or where to look for information on how to spot the ISS? That’s what NASAs Spot the Station Website is for. There is an interactive map on the home page that you can play around with or just type your city in the search bar and you will be directed to your area.
If there are multiple visibility points, select the point closest to where you live, click on it, and a graph will appear showing the times and other information for a period of approximately two weeks.
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It will look like this:
The key here is “maximum height”. As you can see, the ISS is most visible in this area (Queens, NY) tonight and tomorrow evening. Your best bet to catch the ISS is when it is above 40 degrees (maximum altitude – no temperature).
There are all kinds of numbers in the table, however NASA is collapsing everything for us:
time In this case, the viewing option begins in your local time zone. All sightings occur within a few hours before or after sunrise or sunset. This is the optimal viewing time as the sun reflects off the space station and stands out against the darker sky.
Visible is the maximum amount of time the space station will be visible before it returns below the horizon.
Maximum height is measured in degrees (also known as height). It represents the height of the space station from the horizon in the night sky. The horizon is zero degrees and ninety degrees just above your head. If you keep your fist at arm’s length and place your fist on the horizon, the tip is about 10 degrees.
Appears is the place in the sky where the station is first visible. Like the maximum altitude, this value is measured in degrees from the horizon. The letters represent compass directions – N is north, WNW is west for northwest, and so on.
Disappears shows where in the night sky the International Space Station leaves your field of vision.
The good news is that if you miss the ISS, it keeps coming back. You also have the option Registration for notifications from NASA. They only send them on days when the altitude is at least 40 degrees.