Necessary COVID-19 pandemic precautions have halted several large-scale space projects, including NASA’s Artemis mission (the one that will take the first woman and next man to the Moon) and, ESA and Roscosmos’ Rosalind Franklin Mars Rover. However, as Thomas Klemmer, an astrophotographer from Germany, proved, you can still escape from Earth under lockdown measures, if you just look skywards.
On Saturday evening, Klemmer (also known as astroaffairs and 120decibel), directed his telescoping rig in his back garden towards the International Space Station (ISS). According to his post on Reddit, he manually tracked the station through a viewfinder, which moves at a speed of almost 28,000 kilometers (17,500 miles) per hour– orbiting Earth about every 90 minutes. Once in his field of view, Klemmer captured hundreds of shots of the ISS using a ZWO ASI 174mm mono imaging camera.
To produce the final image, Klemmer stacked the best 22 frames, before sharpening them. Commenting on the Reddit post, Klemmer confessed that it was only his second try imaging the ISS; but hopefully it won’t be the last!
Measuring in at around the width of a football pitch (109 meters), the ISS is visible from Earth without the need for a telescope. Streaking across the sky, the space station looks like an airplane (without the flashing lights and changes in direction) or a very bright star.
NASA has created a piece of software called “Spot The Station”, where you can find a list of possible ISS sightings for thousands of locations across the world. The optimum viewing periods occur within a few hours before or after sunrise or sunset, as the Sun reflects off the ISS providing a contrast against the darker sky. But if you’re hoping to see it you’ll have to be speedy as the station is only visible for several minutes at a time before crossing back below the horizon.