According to NASA, the International Space Station (ISS) will be visible from space this weekend – just as long as clear skies are on the forecast. Eager adventurers and future astronaut wannabees can keep an eye out for the free show beginning tonight, Friday, Dec. 26 until Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the floating space station, here’s a bit of history: the ISS was launched in 1998 and is currently the largest artificial body in orbit – big enough to be seen with the ewsaked eye from Earth. Since the arrival of the Expedition 1 and 2 crews, the station, or habitable artificial satellite, has been continuously occupied for over 14 years. It is now maintained by a number of countries, including the European Space Agency, NASA, and the Russian Federal Space Agency, and serves as a microgravity research laboratory for crew members to conduct experiments in biology, physics, and astronomy, among other fields.
On Friday, the ISS will be visible for a few minutes in the West Coast, USA (San Diego). From 6:38 p.m. to 6:41 p.m., the space station will hover above the northwest horizon at 10 degrees, before moving towards the south-southwest. However, it may be a little difficult to distinguish from the other stars, despite being the third brightest object in the sky. From earth, it will most likely resemble a “steadily moving ball.”
According to astronomer Jon Marchant of Liverpool John Moores University, it might also look a bit like a fast-moving plane.
“There’s plenty of opportunity to get a plane mixed up with the ISS…That’s only what it will appear to look like; it’s actually moving a lot faster – four-and-a-half miles per second or about 17,500 miles per hour.”
“However, the ISS doesn’t have any flashing lights and doesn’t make a noise, so that’s two ways to tell the difference,” he states.
According to NASA, it’s also easy to spot if you know when to look up. But if you happen to miss the station this time around, no worries. It orbits the Earth once every 90 minutes – or about 16 times every day. Just make sure you catch it during its next round trip.