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The Outer Limits! Watching the International Space Station

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

The International Space Station (ISS) is a marvel of the modern world. We often hear the old expression that the Great Wall of China is the only man made object visible from space. Well, the space station is visible from down here on Earth and frequently here, in Zaragoza!

NASA provide details on where and when you can spot the ISS with detailed explanations as to where in the sky and at what time. Consulting the list on that page we can see that tonight (Monday 30th January) presents an excellent opportunity to watch the ISS cross the Maño sky. For about four minutes the station will streak across the sky at around 7.14pm. It will emerge over the horizon at 15º above South West on the compass and reach as high as 60º in the sky before disappearing again at 22º above East North East.

The station is easiest to spot in the early evening as the sun has set but the light is caught by the station and reflected against the night sky. It makes the station look like a fast moving star or a plane travelling across the sky but with a constant light, not flashing.

The night sky is measured in degrees (0º – 180º) to assist in locating objects. The horizon is 0º and directly above you is 90º. If you extend a fist to the horizon, as if it is resting on that line, the top of your fist is 10º. The space station often flies across the Zaragoza sky between 10º and 25º, in other words very low in the sky, often obscured by buildings and for a very short time. Tonight the station is visible high in the sky. A similar opportunity will occur next Wednesday Feb 1 at 7.07pm, crossing the sky from 40º above West to 12º above North East for four minutes reaching a maximum height of 57ª in the sky.

Take the opportunity to sneak out of class and grab a glimpse of the extraordinary magic of humans living at the extreme edge of our capability. Brave men and women taking their place in the long line of astronauts and cosmonauts pushing the boundary of exploration which hopefully one day will extend far further than what is visible with the naked eye.

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