I can still remember when I was a kid when I realized you could spot moving satellites in the sky at night. One of the most memorable of my satellite encounters occurred one night on my front porch on a hot summer’s night after at least 45 minutes of patiently waiting. Then suddenly there it was: a bright golden star that faded in, then faded out. Then the satellite turned to a white glow which faded in then faded out. This repeating alternation between the reflection of the satellite’s gold foil and the white reflection of its main body lasted for a few minutes and I’ve never forgotten it since.
Looking back, I can’t be certain if that was a satellite or the International Space Station. But now there’s a new tool which will never leave you scratching your head about that. NASA recently launched the Spot the Station™ service which sends its subscribers an email and/or text message notification every time the ISS is about to pass over your neighborhood. The Atlantic writes, “Several times a week, Mission Control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston determines sighting opportunities for 4,600 terrestrial locations worldwide — places from which the space station is visible for a long distance. Now, NASA is publicizing that list … and sending it, in fact, directly to you.”
The notifications are delivered a few hours before the ISS passes over your head, and they only send you these alerts when the ISS is in its prime viewing zone of 40 degrees or more above the Earth’s horizon (any closer to the horizon and it’s not visible due to pollutants in the atmosphere). You can sign up for daytime or nighttime alerts (or both) and they average out to be as often as once or twice a week, or as few as once or twice a month. You can sign up by SpotTheStation.nasa.gov.