You can watch the International Space Station pass over tonight. And unlike this morning’s Quadrantid meteor shower, which required finding a dark location in the freezing early morning cold, this skywatching opportunity requires only that you step outside wherever you are* for a few minutes before 6 p.m. tonight (Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012).
- The ISS will look like a VERY bright star that is noticeably moving. It will be easily visible even though the sky won’t be completely dark yet.
- Head outside by 5:54 p.m. and start looking toward the northwest sky. Don’t worry if you don’t notice the ISS right away. Recruit your friends, family, neighbors, or nearby friendly pedestrians to help look and increase everyone’s chances of seeing it. If all else fails, keep your eyes on the Moon—the ISS will appear to go just past it at 5:58-ish.
- Between 5:54 and 6:00 p.m., the ISS will appear to move from northwest to southeast. At 5:57 p.m. it reaches its highest point above the horizon, in the northeast, not terribly far from the top of the sky.
*If you’re reading this from outside central North Carolina, see NASA’s spacecraft sighting opportunities website for better predictions of when and where to look.
What not to mistake the space station for:
- A planet. (Venus and Jupiter are prominent in the current evening sky. Like the ISS, these planets are very bright. However, they will not noticeably move over a few minutes.)
- An airplane. (The ISS does not have red or green blinking lights.)
- A meteor, aka “shooting star.” (Meteors appear to streak through the sky quickly, whereas the ISS will take minutes to pass over.)
Tonight’s ISS pass is predicted to be the best (highest, brightest) for us in the early evening for the time being. But if you miss it, the next couple of weeks bring more chances. Check Heavens-Above or NASA’s spacecraft sighting opportunities website. For both sites, begin by indicating your observing location.
And please join Morehead for our next skywatching session, weather permitting, at Ebenezer Church Recreation Area at Jordan Lake on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012, from 6 to 8 p.m. Although the space station isn’t predicted to make a visible pass then, we will see the Moon, Venus, Jupiter, and other celestial sights.
Amy Sayle plans to step outside tonight to wave hello to the crew members of Expedition 30 on the ISS.