One of the easiest and most enjoyable objects to see when you begin your journey of the night sky is the International Space Station (ISS from now on).
This blog was written by Paul Adomshick, a moderator on AccuWeather Astronomy on Facebook.
As smart phones have proliferated, the number of apps available as aids for amateur astronomy and observation of man-made satellites has grown. I recently started using ISS Detector and have found it to be an outstanding tool for determining when and where to look for the International Space Station. ISS Detector is only available for the Android OS, but there are similar apps available for the iPhone. So, if you own an iPhone and think that the functions of ISS Detector are of interest to you, you may want to look into what is available for your iPhone.
The best thing about ISS Detector is that it is a free app, and can be downloaded and installed fromGoogle Play as well as from other Android app sources.
ISS Detector is very feature-rich, but its basic function is to help you to determine when and where in the sky you will be able to see the International Space Station. It makes this easy by loading a list of upcoming orbital passes over your location. Assuming that your phone has GPS location functionality, ISS Detector will automatically determine the ISS passes that will be visible from your current location. But, you can also set your location manually, in case your phone doesn't precisely locate where you are, or if you want to plan your viewing when you travel to another location. You will see a list of upcoming ISS passes, as well as Iridium satellite flares. Each item on the list shows the time and date, as well as the magnitude (a measure of brightness - lower numbers are brighter), the direction where it will appear, the elevation when it will be brightest, as well as the forecast weather at that time.
When you select a particular pass from the list, a graphical compass appears. Assuming that your phone has tilt sensors and an internal compass, as most newer phones do, you can turn and tilt your phone using the display to align your phone so that it will be pointing at the location in the sky where the ISS will appear. The developer labels this view "RADAR," as if it is an air traffic controller's radar screen. If you select the DETAILS tab to the right of the RADAR tab, a list of information on the position of the ISS will be shown, as well as a map showing its current location, orbital path, and a circle showing where it is above the horizon. You can click this map to expand it to full screen, and scroll around the map to see where it is relative to your location.
In addition to all of the information ISS Detector provides, you can also set notifications, so that your phone will play a ringtone when the ISS is going to appear. You can adjust the notification time to give yourself from one minute to one hour to get to where you can see the ISS. If you want, ISS Detector will also give a five-second countdown beep when the ISS is going to appear.
When I first tested this app, the ISS pass was going to occur while it was still twilight, and the magnitude wasn't very bright, so the ISS would just barely be visible, just above the horizon . This was actually a good test, because the app did an excellent job of helping me to find the ISS, even though it was very dim. The compass on my phone is pretty good, although not perfect, so the ISS was a few degrees to the right of where the app displayed (less than the width of my hand at arm's length), which is more than precise enough to find the ISS. The tilt sensors in my phone were absolutely perfect, so I was able to look directly over the length of the phone and the ISS was precisely where the app showed that it would be. The first time you try it, you will be amazed at how perfectly the app points you in the right direction, and tells you when the ISS will be visible. I am looking forward to using it to track an ISS pass that is overhead and very bright, and really want to see a bright Iridium flare.
I hope that you enjoy using ISS Detector as much as I do.
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