International Space Station visible again in Irish skies tonight

Another chance to see the brightest object in the sky, which travels at 27,600km/h

A view of Earth from the International Space Station on March 20th. Photograph: @Space_Station / Twitter

A view of Earth from the International Space Station on March 20th. Photograph: @Space_Station / Twitter

 

Skygazers will get more chances over the coming days to see the International Space Station (ISS) as it passes over Irish skies.

Many were left disappointed last night when it passed overhead at 8.45pm with thick clouds obscuring the view.

Tonight it will be visible between 9.33pm and 9.36pm. The good news is that it will be easily located as it will bisect Orion’s Belt in the constellation of Orion, the brightest and most recognisable constellation in the sky.

It will also be very bright. Its apparent magnitude of -2.1 makes it brighter than the brightest star Sirius, which will be just underneath it as it passes over.

While you are looking up at it take a moment to observe the red star in the left hand corner of Orion. That star, called Betelgeuse, is a super-red giant which may no longer exist. Astronomers have noticed that it has dimmed considerably which means that it may be on the verge of becoming a supernova. This happens when it blows up and creates a black hole.

Betelgeuse is 700 light years away so it takes the light that amount of time to travel to Earth so it might well have blown up in the last couple of centuries, but we have yet to find out about it.

For those looking for the space station, the bad news is that it will be much lower down tonight in comparison with Tuesday night.

Tonight it will have a maximum elevation of 24 degrees from the horizon which means that it may not be visible over the tops of houses or hilly landscapes.

The advice for seeing it is to try and find as flat a horizon as possible, preferable looking out to sea to see it.

The forecast is mixed. It will be dry with patchy clouds for the most part.

The station travels at a speed of 27,600km/h. For those who don’t have a calculator to hand, that represents 460km per minute, or almost 8km per second. It orbits Earth every 92 minutes.

Safe in space

The six members of the crew, three Russians and three Americans, departed Earth in February before the coronavirus pandemic was declared and will be returning next month.

They are probably the safest human beings anywhere now as there is no chance of them catching coronavirus in space.

Flight engineer Andrew Morgan, who is a medical doctor, tweeted on Monday: “As a medical doctor looking back on our planet on #NationalDoctorsDay, I think of the healthcare professionals & volunteers that are risking their lives in this crisis. We’re at our best when we help each other. I’m in awe of your selfless service. Thank you from @Space_Station”.

On St Patrick’s Day Dr Morgan posted a picture on his Twitter page that he had taken the previous autumn: He tweeted: “Happy #StPatricksDay! This past fall I captured this clear day over the southern end of the Emerald Isle: Limerick, Cork and Kerry counties.”

He also shared a photo of the tricolour floating in one of the windows of the Cupola observatory the a dome-shaped module that the crew of Expedition 62, as it is called, can observe the Earth.

Ireland has had a long association with the space station as both commander Chris Hadfield, who is a regular visitor to Ireland, and astronaut Catherine Cady Coleman have both played traditional Irish music while on board the station.

Met Éireann reports that tonight will be cold and dry in most places, with variable amounts of cloud and clear spells. As the ISS is very bright, it should be visible in any break in the clouds.

A few light showers may occur, mainly near north and northwest coasts.