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Look dude, there goes the space station!
Old 12-21-2005, 05:49 PM   #1
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Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: Oahu
Posts: 26,564
Look dude, there goes the space station!

I'm no astronomer, but I enjoy a good night sky and I've learned a few constellations from an ancient celestial navigation class. Thanks to NASA's website I've been able to watch the space station pass overhead for the last five or six years and this morning's pass was one of the best I've ever seen.

I've plugged our backyard's lat/long into NASA's J-pass generator and once or twice a month I'll get an e-mail with the pertinent data for my location:

Start Time : 12/21
End Time : 12/24

>> STATION approx visibility magnitude -1

The station is big enough to be visible when it's lit by over-the-horizon sunlight against a darker sky-- about an hour before sunrise or an hour after sunset. Despite Oahu's light pollution it's as bright as Venus or Mercury. Of course even if the timing is perfect there's the occasional cloudy or rainy day. There's probably a couple potentially visible passes a month, I'll actually see the station every month or two, and there'll be an impressive view once or twice a year. It zips by pretty quickly-- a degree of arc every few seconds-- so I haven't been able to track it with a telescope.

The orbital-mechanics computer will probably crunch data for any lat/long and it only has to be accurate to within a few miles of your viewing location. The website also claims to provide data for other satellites and the shuttle (when it's flying). Maybe one day I'll actually catch the shuttle in flight again...

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