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If you had nothing pressing to do, would you look at the ISS?

  1. Yes! I even plan my day around such sightings!

    6 vote(s)
  2. Yes, but I probably wouldn't set my alarm for it.

    9 vote(s)
  3. Sure, why not.

    1 vote(s)
  4. Meh.

    1 vote(s)
  5. I'm sure I can find something more interesting to do, no matter what.

    3 vote(s)
  6. The ISS is a government conspiracy. So I won't look up so as not to cloud my blinkered worldview.

    0 vote(s)
  7. God would never allow such a monstrosity. You shall burn in the fiery pit of hell. Heretic! Heretic!

    0 vote(s)
  8. I hate the sky and everything in it.

    0 vote(s)
  1. Jun 24, 2012 #1


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    If you had nothing particularly pressing to do, and the International Space Station was passing over at the right time to be easily visible, would you bother watching it?

    The International Space station (ISS) is easily visible, if the timing is right: it needs to be passing overhead within a couple hundred miles (a few hundred kilometers) or so from your location, and it must do so within an hour and a half or so after dusk or before dawn. And of course the clouds must be cooperatively absent. (Your location must also be within around +/-52o latitude, which accounts for most of the world's population.) Most locations can catch a good sighting at least once or twice every two or three weeks. The timing must be right; it passes from one side of the sky to the other in just around 3 or 4 minutes.

    It's visible because even though the surface of the Earth is dark, the ISS is still in the sunlight. It's bright enough that when it is up there at the right time, it's the brightest thing in the night sky less the moon and maybe Venus (and not counting brief Iridium flares). If you're wondering if it's bright enough to see with the naked eye, the answer is a definite yes. Even in the most light polluted, dense, urban metropolis, the ISS is easily visible with the naked eye, if you catch it at the right time. All you have to do is look up.

    So if the opportunity arises, would you look at it?

    I try to stay abreast of potential sightings by using websites such as http://www.heavens-above.com (Select your location from the map, and don't forget to ensure the selected time zone is correct. Then click on "ISS.") There's also a number of smartphone apps that keep track.

    If I know that a sighting is about to happen, I'll invite anybody that happens to be around to watch it. This includes not only friends, acquaintances and coworkers, but also complete strangers -- anybody who's around. I will politely inform people that the International Space Station is about to "fly" over, and that they can see if the choose to.

    If they are not interested I don't press the matter. Most people are interested though. Sometimes I've gathered groups of over twenty people, and many of them thank me for it even weeks or months after the fact. The reactions are generally one of inspiration and awe. That said, a large portion of people I invite have absolutely no interest in such things. But what's most surprising to me is that a significant fraction of people actually become angry at the idea. It doesn't happen every time, but often enough the suggestion is greeted with scorn and malice.

    So please post your thoughts on the subject. If you oppose looking at the ISS please share your views as to why. If you enjoy looking at the ISS I'd like to hear your stories.

    However, please do not discuss the financial validity of the ISS, or the opportunity cost of the Human Spaceflight Program in general. (I think that's a fine subject for discussion, by the way. But I don't want it discussed in this thread for fear that it will get this thread locked.) Instead, I'd like to keep this thread on the subject of: Okay, the ISS is right up there, and you're not doing anything pressing. So are you going to look at it or not? Any similar experiences with strange reactions to ISS sightings?

    (And by the way, there's other satellites that are easily visible too such as the Hubble Space Telescope [HST]. They're not as bright as the ISS, but still visible enough.)
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 24, 2012 #2
    So that's the conversion?:rofl:

    I was completely unaware that it could be seen. I'll have to keep an eye out.
  4. Jun 24, 2012 #3


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    It's just a rough distance. :smile:

    Words for Small Sets
  5. Jun 24, 2012 #4


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    My eyes aren't that good. Besides, I have far more interesting things to do, such as sleeping, clipping my nails, drinking...

    edit: Just caught your chart, CM. :rofl:
  6. Jun 24, 2012 #5
    My dad actually called me up two nights ago when I was over at a friend's house and told me that the ISS was visible (he knows that I like science and whatnot), because apparently somebody he was with mentioned that it was visible.

    I got everybody I was with to go outside (or, at least I mentioned it and everybody wanted to see it and ran outside), only to stand out in the middle of the street for a minute, finding nothing, and realizing that we were too late. That was actually the first time that I've ever bothered to see it, because I was completely unaware that you could see it with the naked eye.

    I'll definitely be using some of those websites to figure out when the next sighting in my area is, because I would love to see it.

    So, to answer your question: Yes.
  7. Jun 24, 2012 #6


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    I have an app that shows me stuff like that and have seen the ISS and a few iridium satellites. It's not a big deal. Walk outside at a certain time, look up, be amazed. WIN!
  8. Jun 24, 2012 #7
    Well if you know something about the night sky, you'll know that the ISS is a fairly regular sight. I just saw a passover last night that was very nice.

    It's always nice to see, and it's fun to point a telescope at it and track it (if you're skilled enough, which I happen to be), you can see solar panels as little nubs on either side.

    However, because it's such a regular occurrence, it's not something I particularly get excited about. If I'm going out for a night of observing I'll always check to see if it'll be passing by, but I'm not all that worried about seeing it every time it comes by.
  9. Jun 24, 2012 #8


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    I like spotting ISS. We live in a dark-sky site, so ISS is pretty bright, as are the Iridium flares.
  10. Jun 24, 2012 #9


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    I once gathered a group of people to view two Iridium flares within two minutes of each other. There was a good amount of "what is he dragging us out here for" until they saw it for themselves.

    Another group of people that we party with every few months really wants to see one but the weather and timing haven't cooperated yet.
  11. Jun 24, 2012 #10


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    It depends where you live. The ISS orbit only extends to about 52 degrees N and S of the equator, so from where I am in the UK I never see it pass "overhead". The maximum elevation is about 60 degrees as it goes from southwest to southeast. If the max elevation is only 20 or 30 degrees, it could easily be confused with the lights on a plane.

    But the high latitude viewing position does mean you sometimes see two sucessive passes on the same evening or morning, about 95 minutes apart. I haven't checked the websites, but I guess that would never happen if yuo were close to the equator.

    IMO once you've seen it, you've seen it, unless there is something special, like it tracks close to another bright object, or I remember once seeing the ISS and one of the freight modules in the same orbit with about 5 minutes time separation between them.

    If you have a good dark sky site, it's worth checking websites for other satellite orbits. There are several that are naked eye objects at magnitude 3 or 4.
  12. Jun 24, 2012 #11


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    You can get a scheule for the ISS, plus Iridium flares and other satellites at Heavens Above

    The coolest was the rare occasion where you could see the Space Shuttle and Space Station close to each other.
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