April 16, 2012

Cloud on a Skewer

After scrambling to catch the ISS on Friday, I set out to do it properly on Saturday. This pass was not quite as bright, and it was a bit cloudy, but I think the clouds just added to it.

I think it looks like the cloud has been skewered by the streak of the ISS. In fact, the space station is a few hundred kilometers above the clouds.

It just strikes me as amazing the fact that there are people in there traveling around the earth at 7 kilometers a second.

If you too want to see the ISS there is an easy way to do it. First you need to open Heavens Above. The link is on the right side of the page. Once there you need to set your location and time zone as well as your elevation. That is all done in the configuration section at the top.

After that there are a whole bunch of different categories to choose from. They all show places and times where you can see bright satellites passing overhead or iridium flares or whatnot. There are also lots of pages of information about the planets.

Click on 10 day predictions for ISS. The table it brings you to lists all of the visible passes for the next ten days. Occasionally there will be a period with none. This happens when the station only passes over during the day or when it is in the earths shadow. These periods never last more than a week or so. When you find one you want to go see, click on the date.

That gives you all the information about the pass. I find the star chart to be particularly useful. I like to find a few easy points along it to identify, such as planets or bright stars so that I can figure out where it will go. Plan on being ready a few minutes early especially if you are going to be taking photos. Set the camera up at a point you know the station will pass through, then look for little moving dots in the sky along its path.

ISS is usually pretty bright so it is relatively easy to find, especially if you know where it is going to be. Make sure you are watching carefully as it only takes a few minutes to go across the entire sky. If you want a real challenge try to catch an iridium flare. Although they are brighter, they only last about 30 seconds or so and before and after the flare you cannot usually see the satellite. To take a picture of one you need to have the camera set up pointing at just the right place. Then to time it so you get the whole flare is pretty tricky too.

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