Depending on your location on the Earth's surface, a spacecraft's position in orbit and the time of day, you may be able to see the International Space Station (ISS) or visiting vehicles as they orbit about 240 statute miles above the planet. The space station looks like a fast-moving plane in the sky, but it will be seen as a steady – not blinking – white pinpoint of light. Typically it will be the brightest object in the night sky (except for the Moon). It is bright enough that it can even be seen from the middle of a city!
NASA operates the “Spot The Station” service to provide sighting opportunities in a text listing by city. You also can sign up to receive notices of opportunities in your email inbox or cell phone. Please visit: http://spotthestation.nasa.gov/
Interpreting the Data
The text listing is in a column format, a sample of which is shown below:
|ISS||Tue Nov 14/06:22 AM||4||66||10 above WSW||31 above NE|
The left column is the satellite. The next column is the local date and the local time. The third column gives the duration, or the length of time in minutes the spacecraft is expected to be visible, assuming a clear sky. The fourth column gives the maximum elevation the vehicle will achieve above the horizon (90 degrees is directly overhead). The fifth column tells the direction and elevation at which the spacecraft will become visible initially. The sixth column gives the direction and elevation at which the spacecraft will disappear from view.
This sighting opportunity is illustrated in the figure below:
Image above: Satellite sighting graphic shows how to locate a satellite during a viewing opportunity. Credit: Richard Czentorycki (RSIS)/NASA.
For best results, observers should look in the direction and at the elevation shown in the appearing column at the time listed. Because of the speed of an orbiting vehicle, telescopes are not practical. However, a good pair of field binoculars may reveal some detail of the structural shape of the spacecraft.
More information is available on: