A time-lapse photo of the International Space Station taken near Arizona's Picketpost Mountain in 2015.
A time-lapse photo of the International Space Station taken near Arizona's Picketpost Mountain in 2015.

How to Spot the International Space Station Over Arizona This Week

Skywatchers of Arizona can catch a glimpse of the Earth’s largest man-made object in orbit this week as it glides overhead. The International Space Station will buzz our state during the next few nights when it makes a few highly visible passes.

And folks like Claude Haynes of the East Valley Astronomy Club say it's a sight worth seeing, even if it only lasts for a few minutes.

“Whenever the International Space Station flies overhead, it's pretty spectacular,” Haynes says. “It's fun and always causes some ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs.’"

The station, which is approximately 254 miles above the Earth, regularly passes over Arizona as it orbits our planet every 90 minutes, but only becomes visible at night a handful of times each month.

“There are only a few orbits where [the ISS] reflects enough sunlight to be visible from a certain location,” Haynes says. “A lot of these passes will be low to the horizon, but sometimes the station will come directly overhead and will look like a bright, first magnitude star that's moving across the sky.”

This week, those highly visible passes will happen nightly from Tuesday, June 2, to Friday, June 5, as the ISS reflects sunlight from its numerous solar panels before entering the Earth’s shadow. Each pass will last anywhere from three to seven minutes and will resemble an airplane jetting across the sky.

“It's rather sudden and spectacular,” Haynes says. “It will be bright for several minutes and then go dim and almost disappear.”

The ISS has been in the news lately after astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken flew to the station this past weekend aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, the nation’s first commercially built spacecraft to transport people into space.

If you’d like to spot the station during its flyover (or wave at the astronauts inside), the good news is that you can do it from your front or back yard. Here’s everything you’ll need to know in order to do it.

So Why Will the ISS Be More Visible Over Arizona This Week?

As we said, the ISS passes over Arizona a few times each day while orbiting the Earth. Every few weeks, some of the station’s nighttime orbits are more visible because its solar panels will reflect more sunlight than usual.

When Can You See It This Week?

You’ll have a total of four opportunities to catch highly visible flyovers of Arizona by the ISS. The brightest and most prominent viewings will happen beginning at 9:11 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2, and beginning at 8:25 p.m. on Friday, June 5. Slightly less visible flyovers will take place starting at 8:24 p.m. on Wednesday, June 3, and starting at 9:14 p.m. on Thursday, June 4.

What Will Viewing Conditions Be Like?

The current weather forecast calls for mostly clear skies on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. There might be partly cloudy skies during the evening on Thursday and Friday.

Where Is the Best Place to See the ISS Flyovers?

Pretty much anywhere the nighttime sky is visible. The flyovers on Tuesday and Friday nights will be higher in the sky and brighter than the ones on Wednesday and Thursday. You can remain in your front or back yards and still see the flyovers, especially on Tuesday and Friday nights.

Are There Any Apps You Can Use to Help See the Flyovers?

Yes. If you’ve got an iPhone, we recommend using the ISS Spotter app, which has a built-in compass to help you locate the ISS. If you’re using an Android device, try the ISS Detector. Both are free. The SatelliteTracker is also available for both phone types and offers a real-time view of the sky that will pinpoint the current location of the ISS. A compass app, which is available on practically every type of smartphone these days, also will help.

Will You Need a Telescope or Binoculars?

Nope. The ISS will be visible to the naked eye.

A photo of the west Valley taken from the International Space Station in March 2013.EXPAND
A photo of the west Valley taken from the International Space Station in March 2013.

When and Where In the Sky Will Each Flyover Happen?

On Tuesday night, the ISS will become visible in the northwest sky at 318 degrees starting at 9:11 p.m. It will then head east and will be viewable for approximately five minutes before entering the Earth’s shadow at 102 degrees at 9:15 p.m.

Wednesday night’s viewing will be lower in the nighttime sky and starts at 8:24 p.m. in the northwest at 329 degrees with the ISS traveling towards the east-northeast. You’ll be able to see it for around five minutes before it goes into shadow at exactly at 8:30 p.m. at 104 degrees in the east.

On Thursday evening, the ISS will only be visible for three minutes and begin at 9:14 p.m. at 282 degrees in the western sky. It will skim the sky before entering our planet’s shadow at 9:17 p.m. at 199 degrees in the southern sky.

Friday night’s show starts at 8:25 p.m. when the space station starts its flyover at 307 degrees in the northwestern sky and will be visible for seven minutes. It will be going south and end its journey at 145 degrees in the southeastern sky.

What Will the ISS Look Like During the Flyovers?

Basically, it will be about as bright and swift-moving as an airplane flying overhead, only without the red and green navigation lights. “It will also be brighter than most of the stars out, but it won’t be flickering,” Haynes says. “The ISS will be constantly bright as it glides across the sky.”

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