No one knows the starlit sky like a sailor. Except perhaps the mountaineer. And maybe the farmer. All right, we’ll include astronomers, too. But there’s no denying the seafaring relationship that humans have with the nighttime sky.
Those riding on the aft deck of the Casco Bay Lines Machigonne ferry last Friday evening had a special encounter with the heavens. Easily visible from the bay, as the bright lights of Portland, Maine shrank to a distant skyline, the International Space Station popped up from the SSW horizon right on schedule: 4: 49 PM. Racing across the sky, leaving star after star in its wake, the ISS made an abbreviated appearance, which ended shortly after passing overhead as the station disappeared inside the Earth’s shadow.
For the record, the ISS would fit fairly tightly on a football field. It orbits at an altitude of between 205 and 255 miles and has been continually crewed for more than 12 years. At times it can be as bright as Venus.
Want to see it? Sign up for alerts at http://spotthestation.nasa.gov/ and NASA will send you emails or texts to tell you whenever the station will be crossing your sky.
How did John Masefield put it?
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by…
Just remember: If you’re picking a star to steer by, make sure it’s not the ISS — you’ll never stay with ‘er.