(VIDEO NOTE: THE VIDEO ASSOCIATED WITH THIS STORY GIVES A GENERAL ILLUSTRATION OF THE STORY THAT FOLLOWS. IT IS FOR A SPECIFIC TIME AND SIGHTING OPPORTUNITY AND SHOULD BE USED AS A GUIDE. SPECIFIC FUTURE SIGHTING OPPORTUNITIES CAN BE FOUND IN THE FLYBY TOOL IN THE STORY TEXT.)
Seeing the International Space Station (ISS) can be a real treat. After searching and finding it the first time, you'll easily find it the next time you go on a sky hunt!
Most of the questions I get in regard to spotting the ISS begin with "what do I look for?"
Here's a step-by-step description of ISS sighting, which hopefully will give you confidence when searching for it.
1. Find out what time the ISS will be in the sky by simply using the FlyBy tool on our weather page.
2. On the FlyBy tool, you'll see the "approach."
3. The approach will be given as degrees above a specific horizon.
4. If it says, for example, "11 above WNW", this means the ISS will POP into the sky 11 degrees above the horizon as you face WNW or a bit west of northwest.
5. One fist held at arm's length and turned vertically is approximately 10 degrees. Use this relation to help you find where the ISS should pop into the sky.
6. The FlyBy tool will also give you the "duration." This is how long the ISS will be visible.
7. The ISS will look steady in brightness and will move at a constant, moderate speed through the sky. It will not move as fast as a falling star ("meteorite"), but it's motion is quite noticeable. It will travel in a straight path.
The following image shows the path of the ISS on a particular night. Of course, in reality it will appear as a single "dot" along the line. The image shows it's path over the entire length of its journey (given as "duration" in the FlyBy tool.)
8. The ISS will head in the direction of its "departure" given on the FlyBy tool. For instance, if the departure is given as "10 above SSE", that means it will fade out of view 10 degrees (1 fist) above the horizon when you are facing south-southeast, or a bit south of southeast.
9. So, the ISS in the example given will pop into view 11 degrees (about 1 fist) above the WNW horizon, and will travel in a straight line toward the SSE horizon, popping OUT of view 10 degrees above that SSE horizon (or about 1 fist above the horizon.)
10. Note that the ISS does not rise and set like a planet or star. Instead, when it is in a perfect position in relation to the viewer, it will reflect the sunlight down to the viewer's eye. It pops into view and pops out of view.
Happy sky hunting!