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What's Up...Spotting the space station PDF Print E-mail

By Vernon Whetstone

Amateur Astronomer

We haven’t seen the bright glow of the International Space Station (ISS) in our skies for a couple of weeks. Orbital mechanics being what they are, there are times when it is out of our viewing range.

That is going to change with a couple of passes in the next few days.

Tonight (Wednesday, Nov. 17) there will be a pass at 4:58 p.m. MST going from the west to the south. It will be a very low pass above the horizon. It will also be just after sunset but the bright dot of the ISS should be visible even in the residual glow of sunset.

On Friday, Nov. 19, there will be another pass at 4:15 p.m. MST, this one just before sunset which will feature even more sky glow. It will go from the west to the south.

There are five more passes this week, but, alas all of them are during the day. If you would like to challenge yourself and try to spot the station in the daylight here are a some times:

Friday, Nov. 19, 2:39 p.m. MST, northwest to the east, a low pass only 36 degrees above the horizon. Saturday, Nov. 20, 8:41 a.m. MST, west-southwest to the northeast. This will pass almost overhead so could be an easy one to spot.

Again on Friday at 3:04 p.m. from the west-northwest to the southeast almost overhead.

There are other times which I will be posting on my Facebook page if you would like to find them.

It was hoped that we might have the opportunity to watch for a double pass of the space station and Space Shuttle Discovery but those hopes were dashed when the launch scheduled for Nov. 2, was canceled.

Although it was re-scheduled for the following day, mechanical difficulty again called for a delay. After a couple more days of further launch delays a crack was discovered in the insulating coat of the external fuel tank.

Surprise turned to dismay when small cracks were discovered in the fuel tank itself. Launch controllers are now in a quandary. Such cracks have never been repaired outside the place where the tanks are manufactured.

Several big questions are now being considered, can it be repaired on the launch pad, will it have to be returned to the vehicle assembly building, or can it even be repaired at all.

At present NASA is listing a possible launch no earlier than Nov. 30.

SKY WATCH: Full Moon, Sunday, Nov. 21. For all you avid comet hunters, Tally-Ho. Comet Ikeya Murakani is visible in the early morning skies.

The best time to hunt for the faint fuzzy will be on Thursday, Dec. 2, when the comet, a very slander crescent Moon and Venus will all be close to each other and the Moon and Venus can be used as locating aids. Look in the southeast at about 5:30 a.m. MST and use your binoculars.

Venus and the comet will be in the same field of view. If you can’t wait that long, go out Thursday morning, Nov. 18, and look in the southeast 10 degrees up and slightly right of Venus. The comet is about halfway between Saturn and Venus and during the following days the comet will move closer to Venus.

On Thanksgiving morning the pair will be just inside the same binocular field of view.

NEXT WEEK: More astronomical blathering.