Skygazers in the Brainerd area could be in for a treat Thursday and Saturday nights.
Clear skies permitting, those two nights will offer a good chance to view the International Space Station in orbit around Earth. In fact, the space station regularly passes overhead, and the best times and areas for viewing can be found at the Web site http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata/sightings/index.html and clicking on start applet in Skywatch 2.0.
On Thursday, the International Space Station will be visible from 10:02 p.m. to 10:12 p.m., with its closet approach at 10:07 p.m. At its closest, it will be 240 miles overhead. At 10:07 p.m., the best view will be from below the end of the handle of the Big Dipper in the western part of the sky, then tracking southward in the following minutes.
This image provided by NASA shows the International Space Station as the spacecraft Endeavour approached, The photo was taken by a crewmember on the space shuttle on Aug. 10. (AP Photo/NASA)
On Saturday, the International Space Station will be visible from 9:11 p.m. to 9:21 p.m., with its closest approach at 9:17 p.m. At its closest, it will be 236 miles overhead. The best area of the sky to look at 9:17 p.m. will also be below the end of the handle of the Big Dipper in the southwest part of the sky, then tracking to the south in following minutes.
Outdoor photographer Bill Marchel, who has photographed the space station, said the station is easy to spot on clear nights because it is brighter than other satellites.
"To me it looked like a big, bright star, three times as big as any star up there," Marchel said. "You could, with binoculars, see a little bit of the shape of it."
Even though the space station often passes over central Minnesota, it's not always visible. Marchel noted that at times, its elevation is too low, there's too much light pollution, poor weather or it's at a bad angle to Earth.
"But if it's a clear night, look in any direction. It's obvious," he said.
MATT ERICKSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5857.
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