By Chuck McPartlin
Both the International Space Station and the Chinese space station, Tiangong, will be making visible passes through Santa Barbara’s evening skies during the next two weeks, weather permitting. Their orbits may change, and I’ve only listed the best and brightest events, and only for a two week period, so to get the latest and most complete predictions, visit Heavens Above.
On Saturday, October 1, the ISS will pop up in the NW at 8:52 PM PDT, reaching the middle of the handle of the Big Dipper as it fades out a minute later. Look closely at the middle of the handle, and if you have good vision, you’ll see two stars, Mizar and Alcor. Many cultures around the world have used this pair as a vision test.
On Sunday, it will rise at 8:04 PM in the NNW, pass through the bowl of the Big Dipper, below Polaris, and almost to the crooked “W” of Cassiopeia in the NNE, where it will vanish into our shadow at 8:07 PM.
The ISS will appear twice on Monday, rising first at 7:15 PM in the NNW, and passing low over our mountain horizon to fade out in the ENE below the Great Square of Pegasus at 7:20 PM. On its next orbit, it will pop up in the WNW at 8:51 PM, climbing to just below Gemma in Corona Borealis before winking out at 8:53 PM.
Tuesday’s pass will be the brightest, rising at 8:02 PM in the NW, going from the end of the Big Dipper’s handle, by bright Vega high overhead, through tiny Delphinus, then evaporating from view above Enif, the nose of Pegasus, at 8:06 PM in the SSE. Just in time for Telescope Tuesday at Camino Real Marketplace.
Wednesday’s pass will start at 7:14 PM in the NW, from the bowl of the Big Dipper, above Polaris, through the dim house-shaped constellation Cepheus, across the top of the Great Square of Pegasus, and by brilliant Jupiter to set in Aquarius in the ESE at 7:20 PM. In binoculars, you can see the Galilean moons of Jupiter. Callisto and Io will be spread out on the left (east), and Europa and Ganymede will be on the right (west).
On October 6, Tiangong will lead off, starting at 7:48 PM in the SW by the red glow of Antares, above the teapot asterism in Sagittarius, above yellowish Saturn, and vanishing above the Moon at 7:51 PM in the SE. At 8:02 PM, the ISS will rise in the WNW below orange Arcturus, pass along the Serpens held by Ophiuchus, and disappear by the spout of the teapot in the S at 8:06 PM. The center of our galaxy, with its 4.6 million solar mass black hole, is right off the spout of the teapot.
On Friday, the ISS will lead, appearing at 7:12 PM in the WNW and tracing a higher, longer, brighter pass than Thursday’s, ending in the SSE at 7:19 PM. Tiangong will follow at 8:24 PM, popping up in the W from Serpens to the border between Hercules and Corona Borealis, where it will fade away at 8:26 PM.
Tiangong will make its brightest pass on Saturday, rising at 7:24 PM in the WSW, through Ophiuchus and across the Summer Triangle into Andromeda in the ENE at 7:29 PM. It will be a nice opening act for the SBMNH monthly public star party.
On Sunday, Tiangong will appear at 8:01 PM in the W, and go from Arcturus right up to Polaris, where it will disappear at 8:04 PM.
Monday’s Tiangong pass will start in the W at 7 PM, between Boötes and Corona Borealis, go through Draco, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, and Andromeda’s feet to end in dim Triangulum in the ENE at 7:06 PM.
On Tuesday, Tiangong starts at 7:37 PM in the WNW by Arcturus, cruises along the handle of the Big Dipper, below Polaris, and ends below Cassiopeia at 7:41 PM in the NNE.
On Thursday, October 13, Tiangong will make a lower, slightly longer pass on a similar trajectory, from 7:13 PM in the WNW to 7:18 PM in the NE, in Perseus.