Watching for the International Space Station is a great thing to do with your kids that also helps them learn about science. Find out how to find the International Space Station, where to get information on the space station’s location, and tips on how to help your kids enjoy a space station sighting in this helpful article by local mom Jackie Vest.
It’s not a bird! It’s not a plane! It’s the International Space Station!
Looking for a fun (and free) way to introduce your kids to the wonder of space? Try this simple activity – all you’ll need is a blanket and a bit of patience.
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What Is the International Space Station (ISS)?
“It looks like a bright dot flying around,” remarked my 6-year-old as he stretched his arm across the sky. Not long ago, we went to a local middle school track field to spy the station in the sky. Across the darkening horizon, the station appeared as a bright light arching from one horizon to another. It moved quickly, bright and steady, as we oohed and ahhed. Knowing that it was traveling at 17,500 mph and carrying astronauts aboard simply held my kids breathless.
The International Space Station (ISS) orbits the earth every 90 minutes, which gives you plenty of opportunities to spot it in the sky. It is visible to the naked eye at dawn or dusk and does not require the use of a telescope! As the third brightest object in the sky, it looks just like an airplane (without flashing lights). NASA has a wonderful website dedicated to helping you and your family spot the station in the sky! You can plug in your location information and it will tell you all upcoming dates and times when you can go outside and find it. You can even receive email or text alerts!
Looking to try this with your kiddos? I’ve got a couple of space station viewing mommy-tips for you!
Tips for International Space Station Viewing with Kids
Prime your children. Rent a book from the library or watch a quick internet video about the ISS. Knowing even a tiny bit about it will help your little ones to get excited about that bright little dot.
Here are a couple of picture books about the International Space Station that you can find at our library:
Set realistic expectations. Let them know that while the ISS is full of all things cool, what they’re actually going to see is a bright light moving across the sky. Have them wave to the astronauts!
Get open. Heading to an open field such as a school or park will not only increase your chances of spotting the station, but it will allow for the longest ISS viewing window when you do spot it.
Prepare to miss.
Kids can be distracted (or become a distraction) easily. Sometimes, even with the clearest sky, perfect timing, and open field, you can still miss it! Let your kids know that you may not see it on every try. Pack a snack or something else to keep the blues away.
Check the weather and schedule. The best times to see the space station are when it’s visible for the longest time and the night is clear.
To find out when you can next spot the Station, visit the NASA website. You can even sign up for email alerts to ensure that you always know when it’s a great time to see the station.
Use an app like the ISS Detector to help you locate the space station. It also sends you alerts when the station is visible in your area.
Would your little one love spying the International Space Station?