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Above: Using an 8-inch telescope and an inexpensive digital camera, Tom Gwilym of Bellevue, Washington, captured these images of the ISS and the space shuttle docked together on Oct. 13th.
Just this morning Atlantis undocked from the space station--the end of its 9-day visit to the ISS. The single point of light which in recent days had been the two spaceships joined together has now split in two. Until Atlantis lands on Oct. 18th, the shuttle will follow an orbit similar to the space station's. This means you can see both spaceships at the same time (or nearly so) as they pass overhead in tandem.Peering at the ISS through a telescope can be a wonderful experience. (Amateur astronomer Ulrich Beinert explains how to do it in the Science@NASA story "More Spaceship Sightings.") The space station's T-shaped solar arrays are eye-catching, and many sky watchers are impressed by their eerie copper color.
You don't, however, need a telescope to enjoy these flybys. The station will be very bright and easy to see with the unaided eye.
When exactly should you look?
Find out by visiting one of these three popular web sites: J-Pass, Heavens Above, or SkyWatch. Each will ask for your zip code or city, and respond with a schedule of suggested spotting times. Times for selected US cities are listed in the table below. It's a partial list. If your home town is not included, check the web sites for more information.
Above: Local times in October when the ISS will appear over some U.S. cities. The station will emerge over the northwest horizon, sail overhead (or nearly so), and disappear again in the southeast.
A typical apparition looks like this: The space station appears near the horizon. At first it's just a dim speck of light, but it brightens as it glides overhead, crossing the sky in 3 to 6 minutes. When the geometry is right, as it will be for many sky watchers on Oct. 16th and 17th, the ISS outshines every star in the sky except the sun.
Although the space shuttle is smaller than the ISS, it will look brighter than the ISS during the coming flybys. Why? The shuttle's white surface is an excellent reflector of sunlight. The two brilliant spacecraft will appear close together on Oct. 16th, but farther apart on the 17th as Atlantis prepares to land. Heavens Above calculates sighting times for the ISS and the shuttle. Check both before you head outdoors.
The crew of the Atlantis have been working at the ISS this past week on a construction mission. They delivered and installed the S1-truss, a 45-foot-long extension to the station's "backbone." Attached to the S1-truss is a radiator, silvery and reflective, which itself unfolds 75-ft long. Every time such pieces are added to the expanding station, it becomes easier to see.
That's good news for sky watchers because the ISS soaring overhead is a lovely sight. The space shuttle flying nearby only makes it better. Check the flyby schedule for your hometown and see for yourself!Be sure to check out: science.nasa.gov