With summer’s mostly clear skies, it’s the time of year we in the rainy Northwest can reliably view celestial events such as eclipses, planetary conjunctions — and the International Space Station, which is visible frequently as it passes overhead.
ISS appears in the night sky as a fast-moving object, sometimes as bright as Jupiter or Venus. It’s bright enough that it can be seen in Bellingham despite the glare of city lights, and is sometimes visible at dawn and twilight.
Sometimes the station is visible for 10 or more days straight, sometimes it passes overhead more than once a day, and sometimes it’s not visible at all. Sometimes it’s seen in the wee hours and sometimes in prime time.
To learn when the station will be visible, go to spotthestation.nasa.gov and navigate to your location. NASA usually lists possible sightings about two weeks in advance. NASA also offers news and photos of the ISS.
If you have a smartphone, download the free ISS Spotter app. It has features such as a real-time tracking graphic, so you can see where the space station is located at any time. ISS Spotter can show exactly when the station will appear and pinpoint its exact location and elevation in the sky, so you’ll know where to look.
Try to watch the station’s entire pass, to the point where it suddenly vanishes as it enters the Earth’s shadow high in space. That is a cool thing to see.
Visible passes are rated from one to three stars, according to how high the station will be above the horizon. There’s also an alarm to remind you when the ISS is visible.