Clear skies likely for tonight's space station flyby
Space Cadets! Step outside Thursday evening and catch a glimpse of billions of the world's tax dollars as they fly over Baltimore aboard the International Space Station.
The ISS will make an especially bright and high pass over Central Maryland shortly after 9 p.m. The forecast calls for clear skies, so the station will be easily visible from just about anywhere in the region with a broad view of the sky, even in downtown Baltimore. Be sure to take the kids, and grab the attention of any joggers or dog-walkers that happen by. Point out the station to them and they'll think you're a genius. Or a total geek.
Give yourself a few extra minutes on either end of this flyby. On Wednesday just after noon EDT, the Russians launched an unmanned Progress supply ship (photo, right) which is scheduled to dock with the ISS on Saturday with tons of food, water, oxygen and other cargo. There's a chance we'll be able to spot Progress flying a few minutes ahead of, or behind the ISS during this pass. Being smaller than the ISS, Progress will reflect less sunlight and appear dimmer in the night sky. It may be harder to spot amid urban lighting.
Look for the ISS to rise above the southwest horizon beginning at 9:12 p.m. EDT. It will look like a steady, bright star, climbing into the sky at a brisk pace. If you see something that blinks, or sports multiple or colored lights, it's an airplane. Keep looking.
The station will pass very close to Pollux, the southernmost of the twin stars of Gemini. Just south of Pollux and the ISS you can find reddish Mars. Venus will be shining very low in the west.
At 9:15 p.m. the ISS will reach its highest elevation of this pass, about two-thirds of the way from the northwest horizon to the zenith (straight up). At that moment, it will be 238 miles from observers in Baltimore.
There are currently six astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the outpost - five men and one woman. Three are Russians, two are Americans, and one is Japanese.
From there, watch as the station passes by the lip of the Big Dipper, and sails off toward the northeast, disappearing into the Earth's shadow at 9:19 p.m.
The ISS is nearly complete. It now has a mass of more than 800,000 pounds. It has been occupied continuously since November 2000. It circles the globe 16 times a day at 17,500 mph, eventually passing over 90 percent of the Earth's surface. To explore the station through an interactive NASA "photosynth" display, click here.
Good luck. And, as always, drop back here after the flyby, leave a comment, and let other readers know where you were, what you saw and how everybody reacted.