Did I see the space station last night? Here’s what the International Space Station looks like from space above. But what does it look like from Earth? More specifically, what does it look like from my backyard deck on the South Dakota prairie on a late Sunday night? Well, here’s what got my curiosity spinning about all this…
I was out on our deck gazing at an amazing display of stars last night when I noticed something a bit odd. I first thought it was a plane; but it didn’t quite seem right. It was a small but fairly bright set of white lights (not blinking) that moved slowly across the sky in formation. They moved at roughly the speed an airplane would, as if each where a point on an oblique (irregular) triangle. First I wondered if it could be some sort of military jet formation on a practice run or something. I couldn’t hear any sound (other than a party a couple blocks down the street). As I watched the three lights move smoothly across the sky (I first noticed them roughly in the west/northwest sky, they moved to the east/southeast) they just seemed to hold that triangle formation too perfectly to be three jets. so I began to wonder if I was catching my first glimpse (at least the first one I realized what I was looking at) of the International Space Station. The whole sighting took less than a minute, and I saw it around 11:35-11:45 pm CST.
When I came inside I jumped online and did a little research on viewing the ISS from Earth. I found a whole bunch of stuff, including this site that tracks when the latest and next sighting will be from your zip code and time zone. It turns out it’s pretty easy to see the space station with the naked eye, and it does appear to be a solid white light that moves across the night sky at about the same speed as most jets. It also turns out the timing was just right for a sighting opportunity from my deck–it lines up with the timeframe the web site projected.
So, I haven’t found anything on viewing the ISS consistent with the triangle formation I witnessed, and it seems to me that I saw the lights in the wrong part of the sky. Can anybody help me figure out what I saw? Thanks in advance.
…Another cool little tid bit about the ISS: it’s clock ticks a bit slower than clocks on the Earth’s surface. You can read about how relativity and gravity play games with time here and here (physics geekery warning!).