International Space Station visible from Charlottesville tonight

rpl writes: Courtesy of Edward Murphy, of the UVa Department of Astronomy:

Tonight, Monday, August 20, 2001 at 9:00:00 p.m. there will a great pass of the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle Discovery over Charlottesville and Central Virginia.

To see the ISS, start looking for a slowly moving, very bright star ow in the northwestern sky (azimuth 300) at 8:57 p.m. As it rises up, it will pass between Arcturus and Ursa Major (the Big Dipper). At 9:00:00 p.m. the ISS will pass overhead, and it will disappear into the shadow of the Earth a few minutes later (at 9:02:17 p.m.). When it is at its highest, the ISS will be 419 km away (about 250 miles). It should be brighter than Vega, which is the bright star straight overhead just after sunset.

The Space Shuttle Discovery undocked from the ISS earlier this morning. It should appear about a minute before the ISS following the same track through the sky. However, the shuttle has been maneuvering, and may appear up to 2-3 minutes before the ISS, so go out early.

For more updates, or to generate your own satellite visibility predictions, visit Heavens Above.

That is so elite. So what are the good spots in Charlottesville to star-gaze from?

8 Responses to “International Space Station visible from Charlottesville tonight”


  • I seem to recall, some years ago, marvelling at the view of the night sky from the parking deck behind the Old Michie Building. Presumably, up on Carter’s Mountain or Monticello Mountain, you could get a real eyeful, too. But I imagine that the UVa astronomy folks will have some better advice. :)

  • Well, since I’m the sort of astronomer that spends a lot more time looking at a computer screen than looking at the sky, I went and asked Professor Murphy what he thought. According to him, for purposes of seeing the ISS tonight, you probably don’t need to go anywhere special because the station is going to be pretty bright. All you really need to do is to find a spot where you’re not getting street lights shining in your eyes. That’s not to say that there can’t be any street lights around at all, but you want to try to find a spot that’s in the shadows so that you’re not being dazzled. You’ll also want a spot with a reasonably good view to the northwest, since that’s where the station will be rising above the horizon. You don’t need to be able to see all the way down to the horizon, but the lower you can see, the better your chances of picking up the station early along its track.


    As for general stargazing, I started to list some of my favorite sites, when I realized that they were all in other cities; I guess I haven’t gotten around to finding any here yet. It seems like a lot of the places that would make good sites have their access restricted in one way or another. Either they’re private property, or they’re parks that close after dark, and so on. So, I was kind of hoping somebody else would have some good suggestions for places where one can find a reasonably dark sky.


    -rpl

  • Thanks a lot to Professor Murphy! My kids and I saw the passage of the ISS and the Discovery and it was very cool! We really appreciate the tip.

    Kevin Cox

  • I only saw the shuttle. I think. Maybe it was only Alpha. But it was surprisingly dim, at about 9:03, though going in the right direction and at the right speed. Being so dim, I assumed it to be the shuttle, but I was surprised not to see IIS following it. The sky was really bright on First Street; I couldn’t see but maybe two dozen stars. So that may have been IIS. Anyhow, it was totally cool.

    Here’s a question for you, RPL: is it possible to see the shuttle in the daytime? I was once on a mountain bald in North Carolina, on the Appalachian Trail, when I caught sight of an impossibly small, shiny sliver of slight rapidly moving across the sky. It went from horizon to horizon in about 5 minutes, and my two companions spotted it (with some difficulty) as well. When we got the next town, we found that the shuttle had launched that very day. Was that just a very, very high airplane, or could we have been seeing the shuttle in that impossibly-blue, entirely-clear mountain sky?

  • I was able to see both from the parking lot behind my apartment building on McIntire Rd. They were following the same track, separated by about 15 degrees on the sky. They rose in the northwest, as advertised, and eventually passed almost exactly through the zenith (meaning that their ground track passed almost directly over Charlottesville).


    Where in the sky did you first catch sight of it; was it low in the northern sky, or nearly overhead? If it was nearly overhead, then it’s possible that you missed the shuttle (since it was in the lead). The dimness might have been due to haze or thin clouds, or you may have caught it as it was getting farther away, and thus appearing dimmer.


    Regarding your other question, I’m not entirely certain, but I think you probably can’t see the shuttle in orbit during the daytime. For one thing, at its brightest it’s about as bright as the brightest stars, and nowhere near as bright as Venus, none of which can be seen in full daylight. Second, it’s going to be a lot less bright during the day because it will be illuminated entirely by earthshine, since the side illuminated by the sun will facing away from you (by contrast, in last night’s viewing we were looking at the sun-illuminated side). So, if I had to guess, I’d say it was probably an airplane.


    -rpl

  • As a postscript, why is it that my posts come up as anonymous even though I’m logged in when I post them?

    -rpl

  • You know, I was going to ask you about that. I think we may have found a bug. :) Try logging out and back in again, and see if that doesn’t fix it. I’ll poke around at the code, too.

  • Where in the sky did you first catch sight of it; was it low in the northern sky, or nearly overhead? If it was nearly overhead, then it’s possible that you missed the shuttle (since it was in the lead). The dimness might have been due to haze or thin clouds, or you may have caught it as it was getting farther away, and thus appearing dimmer.

    Yeah, I caught it overhead, so that makes sense. Walking back to my apartment at 2:30am (the coal tower incident kept me out late), I was surprised at the number of stars that I could see compared to at 9pm. A few people going to bed really darkens things up!

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