Tue, 25 Sept 2018
Imagine you’re looking up at the night sky one clear evening.
It’s a couple of hours after sunset and there’s a sprinkling of stars above you. You notice a light in the sky, low down in the west – it could be a plane, but it’s not making any noise and doesn’t have any flashing lights.
It climbs higher into the sky, brightening all the time and is already much brighter than any of the stars – as bright as the planet Venus – with a slightly golden tint. You watch as it glides silently overhead and starts to descend towards the southeast.
Then it fades, turning an orangey-red, until within a few seconds it’s gone.
Congratulations – you have just had a close encounter with the International Space Station (ISS).
The first module of the space station was launched 20 years ago, in November 1998. Its first resident crew arrived in November 2000 and it’s been inhabited ever since.
It is now slightly larger than a football pitch and houses an international crew of six. It orbits between 205 and 270 miles above the Earth and, at just over 17,000 miles per hour – which means it circles the globe every 90 minutes.
Seeing the ISS is easy. Its orbit takes it over the southern UK several times a day, but it needs to be in sunlight and we need to be in relative darkness to see it.
Fortunately, there are predictions of exactly when and where it will appear on websites like www.heavens-above.com/ or follow Newbury Astronomical Society on Twitter – @newburyastro – for updates.
There will be opportunities to see the ISS in the evening sky between the end of September and the beginning of October – and in the morning sky at the beginning of November. Book your close encounter now.