We're often asked if you can see the space shuttle from here, wherever
"here" happens to be.
The answer is "Yes, you can," but you have to be looking at the right
time, in the right location.
The shuttle and space station are among the brightest objects in the sky
when they're passing over. When they do pass over, they're only visible
for three or four minutes at a time. They look like a very bright
moving star, and could be mistaken for an airplane, except they have no
blinking red beacons. Once you get familiar with observing satellites,
it becomes obvious that they're not following a path anything like an
So the key is knowing when. Timing is critical. In order to see the
shuttle or space station flying overhead, three things need to happen:
It needs to be passing over your area, it needs to be dark where you
are, and the satellite needs to be lit by the sun. That means it has to
pass within a couple hours of sunset or sunrise, where it will still be
high enough to be in sunlight while it's dark down on the ground.
A very popular web site will make those calculations for you and give
you predictions of when you might see the shuttle, International Space
Station, and hundreds of other objects that orbit the Earth:
You have to tell it where you live (latitude and longitude, or city from
a database). Then it will tell you when you can see the ISS or shuttle
for the next ten days.
The best passes are ones that have a maximum altitude higher than 35
degrees. We have a couple of passes coming up that are close to that.
Thursday evening, 8:52 to 8:56 p.m. Look for it at its highest in the
northeast. If you face north, you'll see it passing from your left to
your right, at a maximum of 39 degrees high, very close to the North
Star and right through the summer triangle.
Friday evening, 9:15 'til 9:18 p.m. Face to the west, then south;
you'll see it pass from right to left. It'll pass very close to bright
Jupiter slightly west of south, and should be almost as bright as Jupiter.
Old Town Astronomers http://www.otastro.org