Look for the Space Station

The International Space Station is making a spectacular series of evening passes over the UK, continuing until the first week in February. You can view it from your back garden as long as you have a good view of the sky, so there’s no need to travel anywhere to see it.

There’s no mistaking the International Space Station (ISS) when it glides silently through our skies. It is often brighter than any celestial object at night other than the Moon, and moves as swiftly as a nearby aircraft, but without any accompanying flashing lights or noise. Yet it’s at least 400 km above your head, and as you watch the station rapidly passes over the rest of Europe, travelling at around 460 km every minute.

ISS trail
Trail of International Space Station through the sky, 9 September 2009, Oxfordshire, UK. The trail fades as it moves towards the east as the station moves into the Earth’s shadow. Credit Robin Scagell

A typical pass lasts about 10 minutes, although it is only easily visible for about six minutes. It always moves from the west side of the sky to the east, although its exact track depends on where you are viewing from and the stage of its orbit. It can pass directly over southern England, and even from the North of Scotland you can still view it easily.

Quite often the Station fades as you view it, as it passes into the Earth’s shadow. From the astronauts’ point of view, sunset has arrived, which is repeated every 90 minutes.

This is a great opportunity for photography, and also for showing off your predictive powers to your friends and family. To find out how to get predictions for your own location go to our help page: https://www.popastro.com/main_spa1/predicting-the-iss-and-other-satellites/. This explains how to use the prediction tables and get a map of the sky showing its track against the starry background.

The next series of evening passes over the UK takes place from mid March through until the first week in April.