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Ever tried to spot the ISS?


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#1 Deran

Deran

Posted 28 November 2011 - 11:58 AM

I'm something of a keen amateur astronomer and astrophotographer. Although I'm particularly fond of planetary observations, a lot of fun can be had by going out on these long winter nights (for the northern hemisphere folks) and taking a look up at the night sky. Sure, you can get a lot more detail through the use of binoculars and specialist telescopes, but the naked eye serves well enough to navigate yourself around the night sky. Just about the brightest object in the sky on these moonless nights is the the planet Jupiter, but the one thing that never fails to give me a thrill is spotting the International Space Station as it goes overhead. It's over two hundred miles up orbitting the Earth every hour and a half and it's very very visible. There's a great site for spotting all things astronomical called Heavens Above and you can either register (easiest) or just input your location to give you a whole set of timings for viewing a variety of satellites including the ISS.

Don't be confused by the viewing tables if you don't understand them immediately. Magnitude refers to how bright an object is. The lower the number the better with negative numbers being particularly bright and higher numbers being much fainter. For instance, if you live in a town or city with light pollution you will be lucky to see anything fainter than maybe magnitude 3.0. Betelgeuse, the star at the top left of Orion is around 0.4, while Jupiter is particularly bright at about -2.0. Azimuth simply refers to points on the compass, while altitude is the height in degrees above the horizon i.e 0 degrees at the horizon and 90 degrees being directly overhead. There are other tables for other satellites, Tiangong and Iridium flares, but stick with the ISS for now

Anyway, pick yourself a decent pass with good level of brightness. Passes with a higher max altitude will usually be easier to spot and will last a little longer, but of course you are always at the mercy of the weather. If you don't know your north from your south check a compass, have a watch ready and that's it. It appears as a very bright white star which you could confuse with a passenger plane, but you won't see any of the flashing lights you normally see on an aircraft. It will pass over reasonably quickly with a pass from one horizon to the other lasting no more than around five minutes or so. It may suddenly blink into vision as it appears from the Earth's shadow (remember what you see is reflection of sunlight) or it can suddenly blink out as it enters it. It makes the mind boggle when you realise it's travelling at over 17000 miles an hour and I never tire of it.

Have a go if you haven't already and children particularly will love it. Also I apologise to those of you who know much more about this sort of stuff than I.
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#2 Sarek Minyatar

Sarek Minyatar

Posted 28 November 2011 - 12:05 PM

Do you know stellarium? Thought that was pretty cool.

#3 Draelor

Draelor

Posted 28 November 2011 - 12:13 PM

You know Deran, the last time you and I talked about this on TS3, about 3 days later driving back from town I happened to see it pass over. Bloody fast bugger, I tell ya.

"Who the F is this knob?"


#4 Deran

Deran

Posted 28 November 2011 - 12:19 PM

Do you know stellarium? Thought that was pretty cool.


It is :)
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BASIC-20100220 WOLFPACKS-1203102200

Watch me paste this pathetic palooka with a powerful, paralyzing, poifect, pachydoimous, percussion pitch.

#5 Miranda Glade

Miranda Glade

Posted 28 November 2011 - 12:47 PM

I like using Stellarium to tell me what the night sky will have in it when I next go out on a night walk, so that I know what to look out for. I just discovered it can show the ISS, as well as other satellites, too. Thanks guys for reminding me about this :)

#6 keacte

keacte

Posted 28 November 2011 - 01:15 PM

Next time i'm coming home at night, i will take a look skyward to see what i can see...! Thanks for mentioning this! :)

#7 hunter st

hunter st

Posted 28 November 2011 - 02:13 PM

We sometimes get a little extra from the ISS down here

#8 Ksharaa

Ksharaa

Posted 28 November 2011 - 03:26 PM

Hi Deran, Check out http://catserver.ing.iac.es/staralt/ for detailed Ephemeris of any arbitrary position. Have you managed to photograph the green flash yet? ;)

#9 Deran

Deran

Posted 28 November 2011 - 04:16 PM

Next time i'm coming home at night, i will take a look skyward to see what i can see...! Thanks for mentioning this! :)


Cool. Just remember that not all passes are visible and you can (particularly in Summer) go without visible passes for a couple of weeks.


We sometimes get a little extra from the ISS down here


Of course, where else :)


Hi Deran,

Check out http://catserver.ing.iac.es/staralt/ for detailed Ephemeris of any arbitrary position.

Have you managed to photograph the green flash yet? ;)


Thanks Ksharaa :) No I haven't. I saw something similar with the Sun a couple of years back, really impressive, but no equipment :( I do when I get the opportunity take pictures of noctilucent cloud formations though. Summertime Shuttle launches, I'll miss them.
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BASIC-20100220 WOLFPACKS-1203102200

Watch me paste this pathetic palooka with a powerful, paralyzing, poifect, pachydoimous, percussion pitch.

#10 Kenda deLagrange

Kenda deLagrange

Posted 28 November 2011 - 04:29 PM

reminds me on this: http://www.perseus.g...-2010-05-25.htm

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#11 Othran

Othran

Posted 28 November 2011 - 06:33 PM

Sod the ISS, Jupiter at opposition is awesome :) For anyone in the UK I think the best time for ISS viewing is about 0500-0700 for the next week or so. Then again "best" is probably not the right word here :P

Today's word is :

 

COMFORT, n. A state of mind produced by contemplation of a neighbour's uneasiness.


#12 Larg Kellein

Larg Kellein

Posted 28 November 2011 - 08:45 PM

Also, for the star chart-challenged, if you have an Android phone you can grab Google Sky Map, point the phone at what you're looking at and be challenged no more. Don't think it'll catch the ISS, but guess process of elimination will, then.

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#13 Nero Prime

Nero Prime

Posted 29 November 2011 - 12:54 AM

Celestia is a great piece of software too.

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#14 Los Lecrosis

Los Lecrosis

Posted 29 November 2011 - 04:24 AM

ok that is just cool. The cool thing is, as they keep on adding stuff, it will have to be accellerated more and more to maintain orbit, so it will only get FASTER! Gonna try to spot this buddy with a telescope. Been thinking lately, about melding camera and telescope and doing some astrophotography... How's agony? Los
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#15 starborn

starborn

Posted 29 December 2011 - 04:24 AM

Aye, I remember the first time I saw the ISS- I was outside with my girlfriend at the time- and it was forecast to come overhead. It appeared as a slightly irregular white dot, just brighter than Venus. It zipped across the sky in what must have been a minute or less. She looked at me and asked, "That's it?!"

Hey, considering I was just outside Columbus, OH, the fact that we could see any star that night with the common clouds, humidity, and immense light pollution is amazing!

Lecrosis- the ISS will get larger, but it will not need to be accelerated to keep orbit. Orbits are independent of mass, as counter-intuitive as that may seem.

#16 Mujen

Mujen

Posted 29 December 2011 - 04:51 AM

I can't wait to try to see the ISS! On that subject I really enjoyed watching the tour of the ISS. The astronaut Mike Fincke is the brother of one of my bosses, which is pretty cool. Doubt he can get me up there. :(