The International Space Station will soon be the second brightest object in the sky

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Second brightest after the Moon, of course. The next mission to the ISS will bring up a huge solar array that will increase the magnitude of the space station by quite a bit (apparently from about -2 to -4), and according to this page it will then be the second brightest. Actually, I remember reading that it already was, but magnitude for an object like the ISS varies depending on the angle (since it's not a sphere and reflects light from the Sun in different ways depending on the angle) so perhaps after this new array is installed it will be the second brightest regardless of the angle.

Anyway, the important point is that it will be getting brighter, which is great as I'm a big believer in anything that makes space that much more interesting to the public, be it changing the way we see the universe by discovering other Earths, or having a space station big enough that anyone can see it. The bigger the better. Also remember that it will be at its brightest after the panels are installed and while the Space Shuttle is still docked, as at that point the two will be joined, reflecting more light than the ISS alone. So if you're interested in taking the time to try to spot the ISS, that might be the most interesting time.

Here's the first paragraph from

Venus is about to be ousted as the brightest star-like object in the night sky. The next space shuttle mission, STS-119 is slated to launch on Wednesday night, March 11 at 9:20 p.m. EDT (1:20 a.m. Thursday March 12 GMT), and astronauts will deliver and install the fourth and final set of solar array wings to the International Space Station. Once the array is deployed, the station will surpass Venus as the brightest object in the night sky, second only to the Moon. The new array will increase the amount of electricity available for science experiments by 50%, providing the power needed for the ISS to house a crew of 6 astronauts instead of the current 3.
By the time Discovery leaves the station, the mass of the ISS will increase to 335 tons and construction of the station be 81% complete. S6 is the last US-built piece of the station.
The increase of the crew from 3 to 6 is also an important psychological difference IMO and it's going to be interesting to see how the atmosphere changes after this increase. As far as I know no space station has ever had that many crew on a long-term basis. I can't wait until we actually have something like this up there:


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