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OUT OF THIS WORLD | Earth, Space and Everything In-Between - a daily journey through weather, space and science with meteorologist/science writer Scott Sutherland

Up early Saturday morning? Look up to see the Space Station!

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Friday, November 9, 2018, 5:46 PM - Hey, southern Ontario! If you're up early on Saturday morning, turn your eyes skyward, for one of the best chances to see the International Space Station fly by overhead!

There are plenty of cool things to see in the predawn sky - planets, stars, comets, meteor showers and even the Milky Way - but there's something to be said about looking up and seeing something that we put there!

For early-morning viewers in southern Ontario on Saturday, November 10, it's a great time to experience this, because the International Space Station is making a flyover.

They will appear over the northwestern horizon at around 6:07 a.m. ET, be visible for between four and six minutes, depending on where you are, as they pass overhead, and then disappear beyond the southeastern horizon.


The International Space Station has a very distinct shape. Astronauts visiting the station get to see it in its full glory.

The International Space Station, as seen from the Space Shuttle Atlantis, in 2010. Credit: NASA

If viewed through a telescope, observers often compare it to a TIE Fighter from Star Wars.

When looking at it passing overhead during one of these flyovers, without the use of a telescope, however, the station will simply appear as a small, bright circle of light, moving at a steady pace across the sky, as shown in the animation below.

This animation shows what the Space Station looks like, from the ground, via the unaided eye. The animation is sped up by about two or three times normal, and the brightness reflects conditions under clear, dark skies, far from sources of light pollution. Credit: Stellarium/Scott Sutherland


This Space Station flyover will be centered over Georgian Bay, Peterborough and Trenton. So, in those locations, it will pass directly overhead, and it will be at its brightest.

The path of the ISS, on November 10, 2018, from 6:09 a.m. to 6:15 a.m. ET, as it passes over southern Ontario. The red arc is the path of the ISS. The green line and blue arcs note the field of view of the live cameras on the ISS. Credit: satflare.com

The station will be visible, though, for hundreds of kilometres on either side of that line.

For anyone observing from the west or southwest of the red line traced in the above animation, the station will still appear in the northwest and disappear to the southeast, but it will trace a curve along the northeastern part of the sky, and the farther the observer is from the line, the more to the northeast the curve will skew. Conversely, for anyone located east or northeast of the line, an observer will see the station trace a curve to the southwest.

The trace of the Space Station, as shown on the ISS Detector app, for Android. Credit: ISS Detector/Scott Sutherland

The reason the above examples only account for Windsor, Toronto and Belleville, though, is due to the biggest factor that will determine if an observer sees the station Saturday morning - the weather.


As with any skywatching or stargazing event, cloud cover is probably the most important factor we need to take into consideration.

As of Friday afternoon, the cloud forecast for early Saturday morning shows that a clear patch will develop, after Friday's active weather has passed through, over parts of southwestern Ontario, the Greater Toronto Area, and the northern regions of eastern Ontario.

The exact positions of the clouds may evolve overnight, however, as this weather system progresses to the east. So, check your local forecast before you go outside, to ensure you actually have clear skies!

Want to see what the ISS sees, as it passes over Ontario? Check out the live views from the space station cameras, on the NASA website.

Sources: NASA | satflare.com | Stellarium.org

Teaser image of space station flyover with the ESA's ATV-5 cargo spacecraft is courtesy Julien Harrod, with the European Space Agency. Several individual images have been stacked to produce this final image, showing the station and cargo ship at many points along their paths, all at once. Thus they appear as long streaks, rather than just points of light among the stars.


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