At about 9:40pm last night, I took a little walk down the road until I found a spot without too many streetlights and without much obscuring the horizon. By that time, the clouds had mostly cleared and the weather was excellent for stargazing. Jupiter was right overhead; Mars was rising to the southeast.
However, I was looking to see something else; something that, to my shame, I had never actually seen before.
The app on my phone told me to look southwest, so I did just that. The constellation Orion was directly ahead of me, with the bright star Sirius to the left. And I waited, hoping I’d recognise it once I saw it.
At 9:52, it appeared very suddenly – a bright star with a slight orange tint. A few moments of observation made it clear that it was moving, between Orion and Sirius, slightly slower than a passing plane.
It wasn’t a plane. It was the International Space Station.
It continued moving east, getting brighter as it went. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see any detail through my binoculars, though apparently you can see quite a bit with a good telescope. That hardly mattered; looking at it go, knowing that what looks like a star is actually a manmade object, 250 miles up, orbiting the planet at 17,000mph and carrying six astronauts – it gives you a special thrill.
I did give a little wave. Nobody was around.
It was visible for about three minutes; then, rather than disappearing over the horizon, it simply faded from view, as the Sun was no longer reflecting off it.
The ISS will be visible from Britain for a succession of nights this month. If you’re interested, you can check where and when to see it in your area on the Spot The Station website. If you have an iPhone, you can download the ISS Spotter for free. Besides that, just hope for good weather!