For the last two decades, the International Space Station (ISS) has been orbiting Earth some 250 miles above our heads. The modular facility is home to a rotating crew of astronauts who come to experience life in a unique environment while also conducting scientific research in microgravity conditions.
Almost 110 meters (356 feet) end to end — about the same length as a football field including the end zones — the ISS moves through space at around 17,000 mph, completing 16 Earth orbits a day, or about one every 90 minutes.
If the ISS passes over your neighborhood on a clear night, its bright appearance and high speed make it easy to spot with the naked eye. NASA offers tips on how to find out when it’s coming your way, so you can see it for yourself.
Some skywatchers go one step further and point powerful lenses toward the facility, capturing incredibly detailed shots of the station as it zips across the sky.
This week, NASA took to Twitter to highlight some of the best of these close-up images captured over the years by various photographers around the world, united in their fascination of the orbital outpost.
— International Space Station (@Space_Station) February 9, 2022
They include this wonderful effort by Chris Hooker of the Newbury Astro Society in the U.K., with the image showing the entirety of the station with its solar panels clearly identifiable on either side of the central, habitable modules.
An absolutely superb image of #iss captured at 12.31 this morning by our very own Chris Hooker. 10in Newtonian, manually tracked. Anyone else suffering from overexposed heat rejection panels? #spotthestation @space_station https://t.co/zFPggYZLAo pic.twitter.com/QQoYVSWO7G
— Newbury Astro Soc (@newburyastro) May 20, 2020
Steve Knight, also based in the U.K., tweeted this impressive shot of the ISS that he took early one evening in the spring of 2021.
— Steve Knight (@Steve_P_Knight) March 24, 2021
This awesome effort by Sylvain Weiller shows the station turning slightly as it moves through the sky some 250 miles up.
— Massimo (@Rainmaker1973) April 13, 2015
U.S.-based Roger Craig Smith used a Canon 7D Mark II with a 400mm lens and 2X teleconverter to grab this image as the ISS passed over Los Angeles one evening a few years back.
— Roger Craig Smith (@RogerCraigSmith) June 14, 2017
Finally, we have this stunner from II+II Padawan, whose shot is so clear that it’s possible to identify both SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Russia’s Progress 79 cargo spacecraft.
The International @Space_Station upcoming phase from 27th. From this angle very clear to see the #SpaceX Crew-3 Dragon and the Progress 79.#Astrophotography #ISS @zwoasi #Telescope @The_SolarSystem pic.twitter.com/zRGEpUWsoj
— II+II Padawan (@Zs3ml3) February 1, 2022
To find out more about life on the International Space Station, check out these videos made by astronauts who’ve visited the orbital outpost over the years.
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