Northern Lights Now – The International Space Station (ISS) will be visible to as many as 80 million Americans on the East Coast Wednesday evening, February 3rd, starting at 6:17PM in Charlotte, NC and continuing until it passes into the Earth’s shadows for viewers in Portland, ME at 6:24PM. Along the way, viewers up and down the East Coast in Richmond, Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York and Boston should have optimal views. The pass will be visible to viewers as far west as Chicago (Briefly), Pittsburgh, and NLN’s hometown of Burlington, Vermont.
Images above come from astroviewer.net, where you can enter your location and find your exact time to expect to see the ISS. According to Astroviewer, this pass will have a brightness magnitude of -3.3 for locations where it is passing directly overhead. For reference, that is slightly brighter than Jupiter appears when Jupiter is at it brightest. However, the ISS is much easier to see than Jupiter because it appears much bigger and it will be moving quickly across the sky. At any point in the transit, the Sun could glint off the solar panels producing a “flare” that could be reach magnitude -8 for a couple seconds.
The ISS appears so big that with a good pair of binoculars or a telescope, it should be possible to make out the shape of the station and see the identify the components of the craft. Here’s an image captured in England in April of 2015 by astrophotographer Roger Hutchinson.
The flyby will be a terrific opportunity to spur the interest of brand new stargazers. This pass will be easily accessible due to the time in the evening and because it will be a 5-6 minute pass with nearly a full arc for most people in the viewing zone. For more experienced stargazers, check out this video from the BBC on how to photograph the space station that features the photo above.
Skies should be very dark while ISS traverses the sky. The Moon will be a waning crescent and will not rise until well after midnight. For best viewing, find a dark location away from city lights and skyglow. However, even in cities, it should be possible to spot the satellite as long as there’s a open horizon to horizon view.
As is always the case with night sky viewing, clouds obstruct the view. As of this writing, 9 days out, the weather is somewhat dicey. There is a storm system predicted for the east coast Wednesday. If it is overcast where in your viewing location, you will not have a chance to see this pass. It is still early in the forecast cycle so the storm’s predicted arrival could easily be moved forward or back in the forecast between now and Wednesday, or it may not materialize at all. Any of those scenarios could leave clear skies for viewers on the East Coast.
Here’s the current GFS model run for 7:00pm EST on Wednesday Feb 3:
There is still likely to cloudy in the Northeast for this flyover. However, the models have been showing this storm faster with each successive run. If the trend continues, the storm may clear out in time for the skies to clear up for most viewers. Here’s the latest model run showing fewer clouds than there were in the original post: