One of the really cool things about living in Saint John is that we are on the flight path of the International Space Station. On Friday night, we headed outdoors just before 6 p.m. and saw the ISS orbiting right over our back yard, tracing a path across the sky from the northwest to the southeast. I last saw the space station earlier this year, just after the space shuttle had undocked and before it returned to earth, and it was incredible to watch, because you could see the shuttle chasing the space station across the sky.
Of course what you see (unless you have a powerful telescope) is not the space station itself but the bright reflection of the sun’s light on its metal exterior. And there’s no question of mistaking it for anything else — it travels much faster than an airplane across the sky, tracing a steady straight line from one horizon to another.
You need to have a clear sky (and as wide a view as possible) in order to see the ISS pass over. And although it circles the earth several times a day, you can only see it from the ground in the hour before sunrise and the hour after sunset. That’s because the earth needs to be in shadow (the sky is dark) and the space station needs to be in sunlight (otherwise it won’t be lit up). As well, its path has to be at least 15 degrees above the horizon; if it barely clears the horizon, there is too much haze and atmospheric dust for it to be visible.
If you would like to see the space station fly by for yourself, check the NASA’s sightings page. It’s a truly magical experience.
Photo taken on November 12, 2010