ISS in Starry Night (February 23, 2011)

Posted: January 5, 2011 by Mike Hubbartt in Academia, Space Exploration, Tips and Tricks
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By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

The Russian Mir and US Skylab space stations were the first space stations used for research done away from the confines of gravity. The news, newspapers and magazine articles of that era showed a bit of what the astronauts saw in orbit, and while the quality of images was generally lacking, they were better than nothing.

Now we have the International Space Station (ISS), which is a near earth orbit (~ 250 miles above earth) space station constructed from components built by the US, Russia, Japan, and Canada over the past 10 years. The first mission to construct the ISS was launched on October 31, 2000, and the ISS is still being updated today. The next major component for the ISS is a tool to help in the search for dark matter, which is scheduled for the last scheduled flight of the space shuttle Discovery in 2011. Modern satellite and cable companies carry the NASA channel, which has live and prerecorded feeds from the space station, and the quality of this material is impressive.

A couple of days ago I looked at the ISS in Starry Night Pro (SNP) 6 and the station was on the far side of the planet away from the sun, so I couldn’t see many details of the station. I left the software running and 15 minutes later the station had returned to the sunny side of earth (makes sense as the ISS makes 18 orbits around the earth every day), so I could easily see the station as well as earth below it. The image below is how the station would appear to a visiting vessel.

By the way, so far there have been 67 Russian, 34 shuttles, 1 European, and 1 Japanese vehicles that have visited the ISS. In the screen shot above, you see the earth revolving under ISS. I like how the station goes from visible to barely seen when it leaves the sun-side of earth. This is a nice way to show students learning astronomy how our planet looks from earth orbit. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Tip: If you want to know the position of the ISS at any time so you can look at it with a telescope or binoculars, SNP has that data. Select the ISS, then select the Info tab and look at ‘Position in the Sky’ to get current position :

I looked at the ISS information in SNP and it is good, but the software also allows user to access online information about the space station from within SNP. I selected the Online Info option for the ISS, which launched Safari and took me to a page in Wikipedia. Now this choice of information surprised me, because most of my undergrad classes expressly forbid us the use Wikipedia as a source for any project or paper. I’m not knocking Wikipedia, but I’ve heard more than a few college professors express mistrust of the accuracy of some of the information.

In a future update of SNP, I’d like to have the ability to add my own links for external information, because NASA’s excellent site and Wolfram|Alpha have a ton of good information on the ISS – size, weight, missions, people that visit, – and NASA’s site also has a lot of good videos and still images, as well as blog entries and tweets by astronauts on the ISS. I’d also like to be able to jump directly to JPL’s and MIT’s sites that have ISS- and space-related content from within Starry Night.

Speaking of NASA’s site, if you’re interested in the space station, you can have a calendar with beautiful color images of the ISS. NASA has one available – click here to download the 2011 ISS calendar.

Click here for Wolfram|Alpha data on the ISS (as well as other astronomy information), including the current position of the ISS.


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