Posted by: Kash Farooq | September 5, 2010

Looking up

A guest post by @medtek

International Space Station

The International Space Station photographed by a crew member on space shuttle Atlantis.

I’ve lately converted several friends to the joys of looking up, so I thought I’d write a little post about my favourite tools for determining when bright things are flying over. Most people living in big cities think there’s too much light pollution to see anything in the sky, but this isn’t true. Because there’s a lot of light pollution, there are mainly two things I can watch regularly: The International Space Station and Iridium flares. I’ve observed an ISS flyover from in front of the Palace Theatre in the heart of Theatreland. When the geometry’s right, the ISS is incredibly bright and very easy to spot.

As some of you have discovered, it’s quite thrilling to realise that these vehicles are flying overhead and we can predict to the second when they will be visible. With powerful binoculars or a telescope you can even make out the ISS structures.

Here’s some info on the ISS:

And here’s some on Iridium flares:

If I am near my computer, I use Heavens Above for pass info:

You’ll need to enter your location and create a login, but this is perhaps the most accurate pass info you can get.

I also like NY2O: which shows the track of the satellite, and you can zoom it in to see exactly where over your location it will pass.

On my iPhone, I use PocketSat3

EDIT by Kash Farooq: On Android you can get the PrediSat app, which uses Heavens Above data for your current location. Thanks to @SkepticBarista for this info!

This application will also predict visible passes, satellite flares, and has a sky map.

On Twitter, follow @twisst for daily updates when the ISS is visible wherever you are located. I also follow @abovelondon which notifies of anything visible over London. There are other @above… accounts for other areas.

Twisst also has a facility that works with Google calendar to send you SMS notification of passes:

Happy observing!!!

@medtek is the child of a retired space worker, sister of a former space worker, and a former space worker herself. She is passionate about space exploration. She tweets frequently on interesting space happenings and pseudoscience.



  1. I’d like to admit that through you and @medtek, I too have become fond of “looking up” and I must thank the both of you for your timely, informative tweets.

    I am so pleased to see all those links in your blog too (particularly the iPhone one – I look forward to trying that one out), now I can track interesting sightings myself!! 🙂


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