If you’ve seen any of the previous pictures that I’ve posted of ISS passes over the years (go ahead, look now if you want, I’ll wait) you’ll have seen that they’re all different. The one constant is that they’re west to east paths (within certain ranges), but every time there are different paramters. Like where the ISS rises in the west (-ish) and where it sets in the east (-ish). How much of the pass is visible – for an evening pass the ISS often passes into shadow somewhere along the line, while for pre-dawn passes (which I am NOT getting up for about 99.999% of the time!) it will appear out shadow somewhere overhead. Another key is how high it gets. Sometimes it’s down near the northern or southern horizon and you just barely see it above the horizon.
The spectacular passes are when it goes from horizon to horizon while passing through or near the zenith, the spot directly overhead. Those are the brightest passes, and the longest.
Tonight’s pass, courtesy of Heavens-Above.com:
Look at that track! Starting at the lower right in the southwest, through the zenith (okay, 88º elevation, where the zenith is at 90º), and back down to the horizon in the northeast. Of course, this almost guaranteed that it would be cloudy, because Murphy’s an asshole.
Much to my surprise, it was clear as a bell.
The good news is that the pass was spectacular. The bad news is that I live in the middle of a big city with a ton of street lights, general light pollution, and every house lit up with porch and security lights. So there’s a lot of glare.
I first saw it with the naked ey about the time it crossed the path of that aircraft in the lower left. The coastal fog and haze will do that. But it got bright quickly and climbed out of that haze. Then, when it got into the wires overhead, it was time to quickly flip the tripod 180º and look toward the northeast.
The ISS was just behind the edge of that well-illuminated tree as it started to descend from the zenith to behind my neighbor’s house. At least the telephone pole, while somewhat unphotogenic, wasn’t in the way.
If you’re in SoCal, there are more passes in the next few days. Tomorrow night (May 14th) at 21:31:17. The 15th at 20:42:00, the 17th at 20:43:04, and the 22nd at 23:10. All of those are lower toward the horizon and dimmer. The passes on the 14th and 15th will be the best of the lot. (There are also some better AM passes but again, *A*freaking*M*, as in 04:50:35 on the 14th. Knock yourself out!)
No matter where you are, again, go to heavens-above.com to get predictions for passes of the ISS (and lots of other bright spacecraft) over your location.