The International Space Station's last set of U.S. solar arrays are slightly deployed in this predawn view from exterior cameras caught on March 20, 2009. The arrays were to be fully extended later that day.
Credit: NASA TV.
Over the 4th of July weekend, Americans will have "spectacular views" of the International Space Station as it makes several passes over the country, NASA said Tuesday.
The space station orbits Earth every 90 minutes in a constantly changing pattern. It is brighter than any stars in the sky right now, typically visible near dawn and just after dusk, weather permitting.
It will be almost directly over head during some passes this weekend, according to a NASA statement.
The trick is knowing when and where to look. SPACE.com's Satellite Spotting Guide has full details.
Telescopes are not useful, because the station moves across the sky too quickly, appearing much like other satellites but brighter, sometimes seeming like an airplane on approach to landing. Binoculars, however, can prove useful and might allow a glimpse of some of the station's structure.
The orbiting outpost is visible because it reflects sunlight. It is 357 feet long, about the length of a football field including the end zones, and 45 feet tall. Its reflective solar arrays are 240 feet wide, a wingspan greater than that of a jumbo jet, and have a total surface area of more than 38,000 square feet.
An international crew of six astronauts, including American flight engineer Michael Barratt, is aboard the complex conducting research and continuing its assembly. Other crew members are from Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan.
In March, skywatcher Mike Tyrrell captured videos of the space station with its new solar wings -- which make it brighter than ever -- from his home-built observatory at the back of his garage near Manchester, England.