Catch a Glimpse of the International Space Station

July 14, 2010; 2:07 AM ET
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Play video To catch a glimpse of the International Space Station, you must know when, where and what to look for. Amy Aaronson has some tips on how to see this moving star in action.

The past couple of weeks have been great for viewing the International Space Station (ISS), either because of clear skies or because of its angle of flight in orbit.

For those of you who have yet to see it and don't know what to look for, here is some information.

First, you need to know whether the space station will be flying over your location on a given day. Contrary to what many might think, the ISS does NOT fly over the same locations every day, and the exact times change. It can take a different path and miss an area completely; other days it might fly over during daylight hours, so you can't see it.

There are several good websites you can check out that will tell you when the space station will be over your location.

*Heavens-Above, my personal favorite. Allows you to enter your exact location and get visible passes for the next several days. You can even go back in time and see previous passes. Information includes magnitude, direction, height, and a star map so you know exactly where to look.

*NASA Satellite Sighting page, click on your state and then choose among the city list either the place you live or the town closest to it (the times won't vary that much). If you want to enter your exact location, there is a nice Applet you can use to get your exact location by zipcode or lat/lon.

*Spaceweather Simple Satellite Tracker-simple is right! All you do is enter your zipcode and it will produce a list of passes for the next couple of days; and you can choose which objects you want to look for.

International Space Station photo courtesy of NASA.

Once you know when and where the ISS will make its pass, you'll need to know what to look for. A few important tips:

*The ISS will NOT blink or have multi-colored lights (Don't mistake a plane for the ISS).

*The ISS will be visible longer than a second or two and will NOT have a smoke trail behind it (that would be a meteor).

*The ISS will resemble a moving star, usually a white or yellow color, and may fade or get brighter as it passes.

*Unless you're really experienced with tracking telescopes, astrophotography, etc., trying to use an instrument other than your naked eye to follow the ISS as it passes may be an exercise in frustration (I have heard that binoculars might be easier). It moves much too fast to easily keep it in a telescope's or telephoto lens' field of view. If you want to try your hand at photographing the station (or meteors), check out these tips.

*There aren't many shuttle missions left, but pay attention to dates when the shuttles are expected to dock at the station because you can see the two close together near docking and undocking times. The station also gets brighter when the shuttle is docked there.

Blog by's Lisa Beightol.

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