Can You Spot the Space Station?
A new NASA service can help you see the International Space Station in the night sky
If you have ever looked up and seen a point of light moving quickly through the sky, it could have been the International Space Station!
Also known as the ISS, the International Space Station celebrated 12 years of continuous human occupation on November 2. The station orbits, or circles, Earth about 200 miles above the planet. It’s the third-brightest object in the sky, after the sun and moon. And it’s easy to see with the naked eye—if you know where and when to look for it.
Now, thanks to NASA, finding out is easy. To help you find the ISS, the U.S. space agency has introduced a new service called Spot the Station. Here’s how it works: Adults can go online and enter the nearest city or town and their contact information. (Ask a parent to visit http://spotthestation.nasa.gov/index.cfm for more information.) Once a person has signed up, NASA will send an alert via e-mail or text message whenever the ISS passes over that city or town. The alert will include what time the ISS will be visible, from what direction it will first appear, and how long it will stay in that part of the sky.
The service will alert people only when the sightings are high enough in the sky and last long enough to give them a good view of the ISS. This will occur anywhere from once a week to once a month, depending on the ISS’s orbit. People can choose to be alerted about only morning viewings, only evening viewings, or both.
A LABORATORY ABOVE EARTH
The ISS is a state-of-the-art orbiting research facility that 15 nations collaborated on, or worked together on, to build. It is the longest continuously populated spacecraft ever to orbit Earth. Crews live on the ISS for months at a time to conduct research on human endurance in space and to test new technologies and techniques in space exploration. The research is expected to help NASA and other space agencies prepare for future space travel to Mars and beyond.
Measuring roughly the size of a football field, the ISS weighs nearly 1 million pounds. It has nine rooms, including two toilets, two kitchens, and two gyms. It moves at a speed of about 17,500 miles per hour. From Earth, it looks like a fast-moving plane in the sky, about the size and brightness of Venus.