Seeing the International Space Station pass overhead is pretty cool. It glides soundlessly across the sky, getting brighter as it gets closer to you, whizzing by hundreds of kilometers above your head at 8 kilometers per second.
I usually go to Heavens-Above when I think of it to check when the next few passes will be. But wouldn't it be nice if you get a text or email letting you know that a pass is about to happen?
NASA has set up a service to do just that: Spot The Station. You can give it your email or phone number, your location, and whether you'd like to see evening passes, morning ones, or both (because the station is lit by the Sun, you can only see it just after sunset or before sunrise).
That's all there is to it. The next time the station is going to be visible from your location, NASA will send you a note. They also have a page describing what the message means, so you can go outside and figure out not just when to look, but where.
I'll note there's another service that does this as well: Twisst, which uses Twitter to let you know about good station passes at your location. It would be fun to compare them, actually. And useful, because they may have different criteria for what constitutes a good viewing opportunity. If you want to see the station, it might pay to hedge your bet.
And don't forget to try to take a picture! The shot above is one I took a few years ago with nothing more than an off-the-shelf point-and-shoot camera set up on a tripod in my back yard. There are two streaks because one (on the right) is the station, and the other is the Space Shuttle Atlantis! I can guarantee you can't get that shot again, but we do send other spacecraft to the station, so if you time it right you might get something like this. If you don't try, it's a sure thing you never will, so give it a shot!
- Watch the skies for the Shuttle and ISS
- And I saw a star rising in… the WEST?
- SERIOUSLY jaw-dropping pictures of Endeavour and the ISS!
- Ridiculously awesome pic of Discovery and the ISS taken from the ground!