Do: Spot the ISS

Spacewalks and Science

The International Space Station (ISS) had been in the news a lot recently, mainly due to the fact British astronaut Tim Peake blasted off into space for his 6-month mission on the Space Station not long ago. We’ve all seen the amazing footage of the ISS and the space-walks taking place there. But have you seen it other than in photos or on your TV screen? If not, this blog post shows you how you can – but to start off with, here are a few facts about the ISS.

Five Fun Facts

  • The ISS orbits the Earth once every 90 minutes (roughly), which means it travels at about 5 miles per second!
  • Some astronauts spend over a year on the ISS in one go, conducting a range of scientific experiments and repairs on the space station. NASA astronaut, Scott Kelly, is scheduled to return to Earth on March 20th 2016 after spending an overall record breaking 522 days in space.
  • The ISS’ time zone is Greenwich Mean Time, as this is roughly halfway between Moscow and Houston, the two main launch centres.
  •  The $100-billion Space Station was built by 5 space agencies (such as NASA, the European Space agency and the Russian Federal Space Agency), all of which continue to operate it today!
  •  All together, astronauts throughout the history of the Space Station have spent over 1000 hours on spacewalks outside the Station!

How to spot it

Now you know a bit about the ISS, here’s how to spot it! It is visible with the naked eye so you don’t need to go and find a telescope (it would be very hard to keep up with it anyway, as it whizzes across the sky) but is easy to mix up with planes and other satellites.

Planes are easy to distinguish as they have flashing lights attached to their wings and tails, so anything that doesn’t move or flashes isn’t the ISS.

The hard part is telling the ISS apart from various satellites orbiting the Earth. The ISS is huge compared to other satellites (it has the wingspan of a football field!). That means it is brighter than the others as well as larger so look for a moving object bigger than others. But if you want to be really sure it is the ISS, it’s worth downloading an app to show you when it is next destined to pass over your location and head outside to watch it.

Photo credit: Wikipedia