Looking Up: Waving at the Space Station
Peter Becker More Content Now
Ever wave to the astronauts?
Anyone born from 1957 on, has lived their entire lives in the Space Age. Spaceships passing overhead are literally commonplace.
Most are unmanned. Thousands of satellites sent into Earth orbit pass over every day and night. You don’t have to watch long on the next starry night, to see one. They look like a star, except that they are moving must faster than the stars appear to shift, and usually they are traveling west to east, northwest to southeast, southwest to northeast, or north to south or south to north. The stars, however, seem to be moving east to west.
Seeing a manned spacecraft is especially interesting.
These days this is limited to the most enormous manmade satellite (in contrast to our lone, natural satellite, the Moon) — the International Space Station (ISS).
NASA has a website to inform you in advance when the ISS is passing over your area of the planet at a time you can see it, and where in the sky to look.
Log on to: https://spotthestation.nasa.gov/.
Just enter your city or town and follow the simple steps that follow.
You can even receive a “Heads Up” from NASA if you request to be alerted by an email or text about the next passage of the Space Station.
The ISS is very bright, brighter than an star in the night sky especially when it is overhead (and therefore closest to you). If the station is seen not far from the horizon, it is not quite as bright but still easily visible.
Watch as the station passes into the shadow of the Earth. In the evening, you can track the station until a certain point where it quickly fades from view, somewhere opposite from where the Sun set.
The view from on board must be fantastic. You can see pictures and videos online, of what the astronauts witness when they have opportunity to look out their windows.
If their eyes are adjusted to the darkness they will be able to see the canopy of stars in the sky of space, like never available from the surface of the Earth under our blanket of air. The dark side of the Earth, where clouds are not over land masses, will show what may seem like more “stars” — only these are constellations of towns and cities, lit by clusters of streetlights and other sources. Oceans of course would be black. If the Moon is shining, however, they could see its illumination and reflection off the waters of this great blue world.
Satellites other than the Space Station hold their own fascination. You may see a few that fade and brighten on a regular cycle as it passes over. This may be tumbling rocket stage, varying in how much sunlight it is reflecting back.
Through a telescope, you will see many more satellites, far too dim to catch with eyes alone. They seem to travel extremely fast, when spotted under magnification of a telescope eyepiece; try following it as it zooms past the stars.
One night I was able to catch ISS in the telescope. I could actually discern some of its shape, including its solar panels, as it rushed along.
Even more common, however, are jet airliners, if you like under ant flight paths. Earth satellites shine with a steady, white light. Airliners have three lights, amber, white and red. A few seconds after seeing one, you may hear the engine’s roar. Be sure to wave at them as well. Someone is likely looking down and seeing the lights of YOUR town and wondering who lives there.
Last quarter Moon is on Oct. 12.
Keep looking up.
— Peter Becker is Managing Editor at The News Eagle in Hawley, Pennsylvania. Notes are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please mention in what newspaper or web site you read this column.