Aug. 1, 2008 — The International Space Station will make visible passes over central Virginia on the evenings of Aug. 5 and 7, says Ed Murphy, associate professor of astronomy and director of his department's public outreach activities. "The ISS appears as a very bright star-like light moving slowly across the sky," he says.
To see the ISS on Aug. 5, go outside at about 9:30 p.m. and face northwest. At 9:32 p.m., the ISS should appear low in the northwest sky, rising higher and passing overhead at 9:34:26 p.m. It will pass into the shadow of the Earth and disappear from view at 9:35:32 p.m., low in the southeastern sky.
The next opportunity to see the ISS is Aug. 7. Go outside around 8:45 p.m. and face northwest. The ISS will appear low in the sky at 8:48 p.m. and pass nearly straight overhead at 8:50:53 p.m. It will disappear low in the southeast at 8:53:48 p.m.
"Both passes should be very good," Murphy says, though the better evening for viewing should be on the first night (provided the sky is clear of clouds). "The sky will be somewhat darker on the night of Aug. 5 since the pass is 45 minutes later in the evening, which should make the ISS seem much brighter."
And a piece of space junk may be visible on the evening of Aug. 2. A refrigerator-sized ammonia servicing unit that once cooled electronics on the ISS should come into view at about 8:40 p.m., low over the northwestern horizon. It will climb slowly in the sky and appear to pass very close to the star Vega, and will disappear at 8:44:10 p.m. low in the southeast. "Since this device is the size of a refrigerator, it will appear as a faint star," Murphy says. "It will not be nearly as bright as the ISS."
U.S. astronaut Clay Anderson pushed the ammonia servicing unit out of the ISS on July 23, 2007, during a space walk. It has since remained in orbit, but is slowly descending from its original distance of 210 miles above Earth to its current 170 miles. Murphy says it is expected to re-enter Earth's atmosphere and burn up late this year or early next year.