Viewing the ISS

Occasionally we get phone calls. People have an astronomy question and decide to call an observatory to get an answer. I would caution that this is generally not the best way to get an answer, Googling the question or looking it up on Wikipedia is much more likely to result in a usable answer. Usually our front desk will politely defer the caller to some other source, Shelly is very good at doing this.

The International Space Station and the docked space shuttle Endeavour
The International Space Station and the docked space shuttle Endeavour

Shelly is also a very nice lady who occasionally takes pity on some caller. Or the caller is very polite and asks very nicely. Often she forwards the call to me, knowing that I can usually answer these sort of questions.

What sort of telescope can be used to view the ISS?

At least the question did not involve aliens or NASA cover-ups, those question would have gotten the polite brush off from Shelly.

For someone who is inexperienced in using telescopes this not the easy place to start. Most of us who have been using telescopes for decades usually do not even try to do this. The space station is quite small and would require higher magnification to see well. It is also moving quite quickly across the sky. The combination of these two factors makes viewing the ISS a real challenge, to put it politely!

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Mauna Kea from ISS

A beautiful image of Mauna Kea taken from the International Space Station. The image was taken using a Nikon D4 DLSR using an 800 millimeter lens. At the time the ISS was at an altitude of 215 nautical miles (398km) over the island.

Taken in the afternoon the low Sun angle causes the terrain to cast long shadows. The summit pu’u each stand out strongly in relief and the summit observatories are easily visible.

Mauna Kea from ISS
Mauna Kea as seen from the International Space Station, image taken Nov 1, 2015 with a Nikon D4 and an 800mm lens

Spectacular ISS Timelapse

My apologies if you have already seen this video, it is making the rounds. On the other hand it is so totally spectacular I just had to post it.

A series of time lapse sequences taken from the International Space Station. There are cities, seas, lightning storms and aurorae, star and skyglow and more. Hit the Vimeo icon for a better description than I can write. Turn off the room lights, expand to full screen and enjoy…

ISS Time Lapse

I do not usually post random YouTube vids here. But sometimes I just have to. I seriously suggest you select 1080pHD and expand to full screen now.

The shot starts over the west coast of North America heading south. This particular orbit went right down Central and finally South America. You can pick out a lot of major metropolitan areas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Mexico City, etc., by the lights. Also spectacular is the lighting in several storm complexes along the coast of Mexico and further into South America.