My daughters and I have been watching flyovers of the International Space Station (ISS) in the early night sky. We usually walk to the playground of their school for a less obstructed view. The website spaceweather.com has a “Satellite Flybys” link that is very easy to use. Simply type in your ZIP code and up pops a few days’ worth of flyover information for several satellites including when and where to look and the apparent magnitude (brightness) of the satellite. (It can show flyovers outside of the US, too.) Whether or not you can see a particular satellite depends on where it is in its orbit relative to the Sun and you. The International Space Station can easily be the brightest object in the night sky – except for the Moon. There are many more satellites that can be visible, but that website only shows the most interesting ones.
There was a good show on Tuesday evening – ISS and Space Shuttle Discovery close together in the sky. Discovery had undocked from ISS about 5 hours before we saw them. Although I’m only a novice photographer, I was able to take some photographs with an 8 second exposure time to get their streaks in the sky. (See a couple of them below.) We enjoyed watching the show – too bad it only lasted 2 minutes before they disappeared into the Earth’s shadow.
Although the flyovers are brief, they make for great conversation: How do the astronauts get up there? Can they see us? How do they eat, sleep, go to the bathroom? What do they do all day? Are there aliens? Did you want to be an astronaut when you were little? (Yes.) I love those discussions much more than watching the flyovers themselves.