Skip to main content

How to spot the International Space Station with the naked eye

SpaceX’s historic Crew Dragon mission to the International Space Station (ISS) has sparked renewed interest in the orbiting laboratory.

Although it orbits Earth at an altitude of around 250 miles, did you know that you can still see the space station with the naked eye?

You just have to be in the right place at the right time, and thanks to the fact that it’s moving at 17,500 mph (28,000 kph), orbiting Earth around 16 times a day, sooner or later you’re going to have a chance to watch it pass overhead.

We can see the space station because it reflects the light of the sun. But the reflection isn’t bright enough to make it visible during the daytime, so the best times are usually around dawn or dusk.

Depending where you are and the time that the station comes close, sightings can happen from anywhere between once in a month to several times in a single week. You just have to get lucky. NASA says it’s easy to spot, describing it as looking like “a very bright star moving across the sky.”

There are several ways to find out when the space station is heading your way, giving you the best possible chance of seeing it high above.

First, you can check NASA’s tracking map that indicates where the ISS is right now, as well as its path 90 minutes previously and 90 minutes ahead. This will give you a good idea of whether the satellite is coming close.

Second, you can type the name of your location in NASA’s online “sighting opportunities” tool to surface upcoming chances to see the station in your area.

And third — and this is the most efficient way — you can sign up to a free NASA service for email or text alerts that tell you when the station will be passing overhead. You usually get plenty of notice, and the alert offers specific information about where in the sky to look. As long as there’s no cloud cover, you’re guaranteed to get a good look at it as it moves at speed across the sky.

If you’re interested, you can also take a look inside the space station thanks to these tools that offer a virtual exploration of the areas inhabited by visiting astronauts.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
Space station leak prompts NASA to rework spacewalk schedule
The International Space Station.

An external leak at the International Space Station (ISS) has prompted NASA to change the date of an upcoming spacewalk and postpone another until later this year.

The issue involves a coolant leak from a backup radiator attached to the outside of Russia’s Nauka module. It was spotted at the start of last week but has now stopped.

Read more
Record-breaking NASA astronaut reveals what he’ll miss most about ISS life
NASA astronaut Frank Rubio aboard the ISS.

NASA astronaut Frank Rubio inside the Cupola module aboard the International Space Station. NASA

Record-breaking NASA astronaut Frank Rubio recently revealed what he’ll miss most about life in orbit aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Read more
Thursday’s spacewalk at the ISS has just been postponed
The space station and Earth.

NASA has called off Thursday’s spacewalk at the International Space Station while officials continue investigating the cause of a coolant leak involving a backup radiator attached to the outside of Russia’s Nauka module.

Another NASA spacewalk scheduled for Friday, October 20, has also been postponed.

Read more