January Space Station and Stars
By Chuck McPartlin
The International Space Station will be making a few visible evening passes through Santa Barbara’s skies in the next week, if the clouds are polite. Its orbit may change from time to time, so to get the latest and most complete predictions, visit Heavens Above.
On Thursday, January 14, the space station will pop up momentarily in the S, at 6:55 PM PST, where Eridanus, the long celestial river that starts near the feet of Orion meets the horizon.
The ISS will appear twice on Friday. Initially, it will rise at 6:09 PM in the SSE, and flow low along Eridanus to vanish at 6:11 PM in the ESE between Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, and Lepus, the Hare crouching below Orion. On its next orbit, it will pop up in Aquarius in the WSW at 7:43 PM for a brief climb, fading away within a minute.
Saturday's pass will be the brightest, rising at 6:55 PM in the SW, skimming the dim, watery constellations Cetus and Pisces, and entering the Earth's shadow high in the sky at 6:58 PM, near the orange light of Mars.
Sunday will feature two passes. The station will rise at 6:08 PM in the SSW, sail beneath Cetus and along Eridanus, then through the lion skin shield of Orion and along most of the length of Gemini, where it will fade out at 6:13 PM in the ENE. It will briefly pop up in the WNW at 7:46 PM, and wink out 25 seconds later near Enif, the nose of Pegasus.
On Monday, the ISS will rise in the W at 6:57 PM near Enif, and climb to the NNW to fade out between Cygnus and Cepheus at 7 PM.
Tuesday's pass will be the longest of the sequence, starting at 6:09 PM in the WSW, cruising across the neck of Pegasus, through dim Lacerta, the Lizard, between Cassiopeia and Cepheus, below Polaris, and ending in the foreleg of Ursa Major in the NE at 6:15 PM.
Wednesday we will get a low pass rising in the WNW near Delphinus at 7 PM, and moving through Cygnus to set in the body of Draco, the Dragon at 7:02 PM in the NNW.
The last pass will be on Thursday, January 21, tracing a similar, higher path starting from the W at 6:11 PM and ending in the bowl of the Big Dipper in the NNE at 6:16 PM.
Algol, the Demon Star, represents one of the eyes of Medusa, whose severed head is being carried by Perseus. Legend has it that Medusa can be seen to wink back at you. It's actually an eclipsing binary star system about 90 light years away, consisting of a large, dim star being orbited by a smaller, brighter star. From our vantage point, the bright star periodically passes behind the dim star, and Algol drops to half its normal brightness for about two hours.
On the evening of Thursday, January 14, take a look at Algol before 10 PM PST, and note its brightness relative to neighboring stars. You'll find it high in the NW. Look again at 11:12 PM, and it should be noticeably dimmer. If you miss it, you can try again on Sunday, the 17th, before 6:30 PM and at 8:01 PM, when it will be nearly overhead.