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How to spot the International Space Station in Cape Town

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How to spot the International Space Station in Cape Town

The ISS will be crossing our morning skies throughout July

Last update: 14 July 2020

Apart from the moon and the sun, the International Space Station will be the brightest thing in Cape Town’s sky this month. The ISS is a little brighter than a star and circles Earth every 90 minutes, letting its crew see 16 sunrises and sunsets a day. But it can be difficult to spot. Here’s how you can catch a glimpse of the International Space Station this July. 

HERE’S WHEN TO KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE SKY 
Until 23 July, the International Space station will orbit above Cape Town.  Each sighting is only a short glimpse, between one to six minutes long. 

Date

Time

Time visible

Where to look

Tues, 14 July

18:26

< 1 min

NNW 

Sat, 18 July

07:02

1 min

 

NNE

Mon, 20 July

07:02

6 min

 

NNW

Tues, 21 July 06:14 4 min NNW
Wed, 22 July 05:29 1 min NE
Wed, 22 July 07:03 6 min WNW
Thurs, 23 July 06:17 4 min WNW

IT’S ALL THANKS TO THE SUN
We can see the International Space Station for the same reason we can see the moon: the light of the sun is reflected off its surface. However, unlike the moon, the Space Station isn’t bright enough to see during the day. 

Because of this, as well as the fact that it is constantly moving, there’s a relatively small window for  sightings. It all depends on the time of day that the Space Station happens to be orbiting overhead. 

A GIANT ORBITAL LABORATORY
What you’re ultimately looking for isn’t a bird or plane, but a giant orbital laboratory floating 408km above Earth. The ISS serves as a lab that allows crew members to test everything from biology and astronomy to experiments for prolonged exposure of life in space. 

IT LOOKS LIKE A PLANE (OR A SHOOTING STAR) 
The ISS remains visible in the sky for fairly short stretches of time, as it moves in and out of the Earth's shadow. 

Keep an eye out for something that resembles a plane, but which is moving much faster (28,000km/h, to be precise), or a very bright and unblinking star. 

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