When you look at the space station flying over, someone might be looking down at you. (Credit: Expedition 24 crew, NASA)

Are you a morning person? If so, this Thanksgiving holiday provides good opportunities for you and other early birds along the East Coast to see the International Space Station (ISS).

If the sky isn’t too cloudy, the two best ISS passes will be the mornings of Thursday, November 25 (Thanksgiving Day), and Saturday, November 27. Both times the ISS will first appear low in the southwest. Over the next few minutes, you can watch it pass to nearly the zenith (top of the sky) before it disappears low in the northeast.

For our location, Heavens-Above currently predicts that the Thursday pass will happen from 6:32 to 6:37 a.m.  Saturday’s will be from 5:49 to 5:53 a.m. Black Friday shoppers who like to get out insanely early will also be treated to an ISS pass from 5:23 to 5:27 a.m. that morning, but it will be much lower to the horizon.

To find the space station, look for a very, very bright “star” that is noticeably moving. The ISS is so bright that it won’t matter how light polluted your observing site is, and it won’t matter that Thursday morning’s pass happens in a sky brightening from the approaching sunrise.

Although it is not hard to spot the ISS, you will likely see it sooner—and have more fun—if others look with you. So you might practice ambush astronomy on any visiting relatives and haul them outside with you. Set your watch accurately, and don’t give up if you don’t notice the ISS in the first minute or two.

Be sure not to mistake the International Space Station for:

  • a plane (the ISS does not have red or green blinking lights)
  • a bright planet (Venus and Saturn are currently in the morning sky, but they won’t appear to be trucking across it)
  • a bright star (no star rivals the apparent brightness of the ISS this Thursday or Saturday, or appears to move across the sky over a few minutes)

Because predictions of where and when to look can change, you may wish to check Heavens-Above or NASA’s sighting opportunities page the night before for updated predictions. Also check one of these sites if you will be somewhere other than the Triangle area. For either Web site, you must specify your observing location (for Heavens-Above see the “Configuration” heading).

Amy Sayle is definitely not a morning person but is considering waking up Thursday in time to see the space station.

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