Amaze your friends with Labor Day ISS flyby!
UPDATE, Monday Sept. 7: Obviously, the weather forecast has changed over the weekend. Our next best opportunity to see the ISS fly over Baltimore would be Wednesday, but the prospects aren't very good for that evening, either. We'll keep trying. Earlier post follows.
Expecting a crowd for a Labor Day barbecue? Or maybe you're going to someone else's place and you need a conversation-starter. Well, this will make you the life of the party. Amaze everyone by predicting and pointing out a bright flyby by the International Space Station. Here's how:
The ISS, with 13 spacefarers on board and still docked with the space shuttle Discovery, will be flying almost directly over Baltimore Monday evening. You will be looking at a record number of humans in space at once - 13. Skies should be clear, so you have a pretty good shot at seeing this event no matter where you are in the area.
If you're at the beach, look a little farther west. At Deep Creek lake, it will fly almost directly overhead.
From Baltimore, look to the southwest at 8:51 p.m. Watch for a very bright, steady, star-like object rising above the horizon like a swiftly moving star. If you see multiple lights, colored lights or flashing strobes, it's an airplane. Keeping looking. (NASA photo)
The ISS, moving at 17,500 mph and 216 miles up, will climb high into the sky over Baltimore, rising to 71 degrees above the northwestern horizon at 8:54 p.m., just below the bright star Vega, part of the Summer Triangle asterism. (The other points are Altair and Deneb. See if you can find them.)
From there, the $100 billion contraption will head off toward the northeast, but watch closely. About a minute after reaching its highest point in the sky, at 8:55 p.m., the station will vanish, flying into the Earth's shadow. Out of direct sunlight, it can no longer reflect the direct sunlight we need to be able to see it. The shuttle Discovery is due to return to Earth on Thursday.
Here's a bonus: That bright "star" in the southeast in the evening this month isn't a star. It's the planet Jupiter (right), currently about 381 million miles away. Take a look with a good pair of binoculars. Steady them against something solid and see if you can spot any of its four Galilean moons, tiny dots of light laid out in a line on either side of the planet. That's what Galileo saw when he discovered them 400 years ago.
That's it. Be sure to get the kids involved. No kids? Borrow the neighbors' little angels. They can usually spot the ISS before anyone else. Who knows? Maybe one of them will be inspired and become an astronomer, or an astronaut. Or a science writer!
Anyway, enjoy, and be sure to stop back here afterwards and leave a comment. Let everyone else know what they missed.