The International Space Station will once again be visible in London this week.
The station flies above our heads constantly, and orbits the planet every 90 minutes at a height of over 250 miles.
Of course, it’s impossible to see during the day, but at night – and with the space station’s orbit passing over Britain just so – it takes on the appearance of a bright star moving across the sky.
It can actually be startling when you first spot it – a glowing orb without the telltale flashes of an aircraft’s wing drifting silently through the dark – but the station passes overhead fairly frequently.
It goes through periods when we won’t be able to see it for months, as its diagonal orbit crosses other parts of the planet, but every now and then, there comes a space of a few weeks when it flies overhead – and at night.
Times vary ever so slightly depending on your location, but we’ve used those given by NASA’s Spot the Station website for Lancaster – the closest point we could find to the geographical centre of the UK – to try to give a good average.
Here are the dates and times of when the station will become visible:
The first pass will take place early at 7.13pm, lasting four minutes, appearing 63° above SW and vanishing at 10° above E.
The second pass will take place at 8.49pm, 21° above W and lasting two minutes, before disappearing 52° above SSW.
The first pass will last three minutes, and the station will appear 32° above W and vanish at 26° above ESE.
A second pass will last one minute, visible at 9.37pm, appearing 11° above W before slipping into the horizon at 17° above WSW.
The first sighting will occur at 7.15pm, lasting four minutes, appearing 41° above WSW.
The second pass will take place at 8.50pm, appearing 16° above W and vanishing 33° above SSW, lasting two minutes.
There are two passes on Thursday, however only one will be visible to the naked eye. It will happen at 8.04pm, lasting three minutes, appearing at 29° above WSW and vanishing 22° above SE.
There will be two sightings, the first at 7.17pm, appearing 37° above WSW and disappearing 11° above ESE.
The second pass will take place at 8.52pm, lasting two minutes, appearing 11° above WSW.
The first and only sighting will be at 8.05pm, lasting three minutes, appearing at19° above WSW before slipping away at 14° above SSE.
How do I see it?
You should have no trouble spotting the International Space Station as it drifts overhead – we say ‘drift’, but it’s actually travelling at over 17,000 mph.
The station takes on the appearance of a bright star, and is usually much brighter than anything else in the sky.
Sometimes the station will rise over the horizon; other times it might ‘fade’ into view in the middle of the night sky as it enters into the sun’s light.
It will always appear in the west, and will travel eastwards.
And just as it appears, it may disappear in the same way, growing fainter and fainter until its completely enshrouded by the Earth’s shadow.
You’ll easily be able to spot it with the naked eye (cloud cover permitting of course), though even modestly priced binoculars may be able to pick out some of the station’s details, like its large solar panels.
So take a look up, there’s a good chance you’ll spot the International Space Station, and it can be amazing to think there are actually people living up there and conducting experiments within the space environment.
The experiments that they carry out would be almost impossible to replicate on earth.