Did you know that stars, planets, comets and Nebulas aren’t the only “things” in space you can view from the comfort of your own house? (If you did, then congratulate yourself. Why are you still reading this post? I kid.) Well for the unaware, there is a host of MAN-MADE objects in space that are visible from the Earth as well. And if you are still reading this, then you are about to find out how to view them yourself
(Careful there, don’t injure your brain with all that excited jumping you’re doing in your mind) 😉
…with the easiest and largest of them all: the International Space Station (ISS).
What is the ISS? Well, it’s a satellite about the size of a football field (100m x 80m) on a free-fall orbit around the Earth. It orbits at an average distance of about 346 km (this varies with intensity of Solar activity – something I’ll explain in later posts) from us, Earth dwellers. It was designed to be a “space outpost” or a “stopping place”…
Initially, ISS was not-so-large. The first module of it was launched in 1998 and with subsequent launches, further “parts” were added and today all those parts make up it’s current size. It isn’t the first, nor the only man-made object visible from Earth. But it is the largest of the ones in orbit, and thus one of the brightest. Hundreds of other satellites are also constantly orbiting the Earth and if you know where and when to look for em; you can pretty much become a full-time satellite hunter.
Oh did I mention there are actual humans in it (6 of them) and an AI robot (which assists the astronauts on the satellite), working around the clock, conducting experiments, taking stunning Earth and Space shots and poking into space-water-balls in their spare time (Eh I might have exaggerated a bit on the last one :D). ISS has a fully habitable environment with oxygen generators (using electrolysis). The total number of people that have been to the ISS is a WHOPPING 209! (Thanks to @Astroguyz over at Twitter for finding this out) You can see a really nice map of the satellite right here.
You’re obviously thinking “Eh. He’s kidding. Mankind has never built anything that large to be visible. Nobody saw the Apollos, or the Vikings, or the Voyagers. Conspiracy? Word.”
Ok. Two can play at this game.
Watch it for yourself then!
On 3rd June 2013, the International Space Station (or ISS for short) on it’s orbit will make a flyby over Pakistan. The flyby will be visible in many of the major urban centers, but is advantageous to more East-wardly locations (Karachi, Hyd, Lahore etc). And the ISS is bright enough to be visible easily with your own eyes. It appears like a moving star in the sky!
A Breakdown of 3rd June ISS Fly-By
You’ve made it this far in the article? Good. I am not going to tell you right away how you can yourself look up satellite passes just yet. That we will keep for the 2nd part of this article. What I will tell you now are the details to the ISS pass that is today. Once you’ve gotten a taste of how it looks like, I am sure you’d be wanting more…
Alright then. Let’s make a checklist of what’s required.
A pair of eyes (Er. How else would you be reading this? :-p )
Curiosity for the skies
Clear skies (Clear-ish also works)
A basic sense of where West direction is (tip: it’s the prayer direction for most of Pakistan)
Ability to look up for extended periods of time 😀
These are the times you must keep your eyes glued to the sky.
Karachi 8:28 PM – 8:32 PM
Hyderabad 8:28 PM – 8:32 PM
Lahore 8:30 PM – 8:34 PM
(If you are not in one of these cities, then approximate with the one closest to you)
Where to Look
This is the tricky part for most of you. As it is not easy to get a sense of direction in the sky on your first viewing, I’ve designed a few pictures to assist you. Make sure you go outside and have a look above a few minutes before the fly-by to get a sense of the sky at that time.
Step One and Two:
(You can simulate these images yourself using the amazing & free software called Stellarium Here)
For the casual sky observers, a chart may be more suitable:
We’re good to go! Alright?
Just so you know, here is how the FLY-BY looks like from up-above.
When watching the fly-by…
I hope you are having fun and aren’t clouded out!
If you are on Twitter, make sure to send in a tweet with your views when you see the ISS. And do it with the hashtags #ISS #Pakistan #YOURCITYNAME
Have fun. And wait for Part 2 where I tell you how to get all flybys information by yourself. Or if you are curious enough yourself, you can check out the following sites:
That’s all folks!