International Space Station Tracking Map [live]

International Space Station Tracking Map [Live!]

Where’s the International Space Station right now? Here’s the live International Space Station tracking map, powered by the European Space Agency (ESA).

Please wait for a few seconds while the International Space Station live tracking map is loading. You can see also the next orbit’s path of the ISS on the map.

The path of the next orbit is also different from the current orbit’s path because of the rotation of Earth.

Map source: International Space Station Tracker on the European Space Agency website

International Space Station Tracking: Why does the ISS path appear like a wave on the map of the world?

International Space Station Tracking Map [live]
International Space Station Tracking Map. The path of the ISS appears like a wave.

The International Space Station’s path (or the path of any other satellite or spacecraft orbiting Earth) appears like a wave on world maps. Why is that?

In reality, the ISS and other spacecraft orbiting Earth follow nearly circular orbits. However, these paths appear wavelike on world maps because the maps are two-dimensional representations of a three-dimensional reality. Most world maps use the Mercator projection, introduced by the Flemish geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569.

When the circular orbit of the ISS is represented on a two-dimensional map, it appears as a sinusoidal wave relative to the equator. The Mercator projection commonly used in world maps further distorts this representation.

In the short animation below, you can clearly see why the path of the International Space Station (or the path of any other satellite/spacecraft orbiting Earth) appears as a wave on the world map.

A short animation showcasing how a circular orbit is projected as a wave on a flat (two-dimensional) map.

How to spot the International Space Station in the sky?

You can watch the International Space Station pass overhead from several thousand locations worldwide. It is the third brightest object in the sky (dimmer only than the Sun and Moon) and easy to spot if you know when to look up.

Visible to the naked eye, it looks like a fast-moving plane, only much higher and traveling thousands of miles per hour faster! It moves at 7.66 kilometers per second, or roughly 27,580 km/h (17,137 mph).

The space station is visible because it reflects the light of the Sun—the same reason we can see the Moon or any other planet in the solar system. However, unlike the Moon, the space station isn’t bright enough to see during the day. It can only be seen when it is dawn or dusk at your location.

The ISS looks like an airplane or a very bright star moving across the sky, except it doesn’t have flashing lights or change direction. It also moves considerably faster than a typical airplane (which generally flies at about 600 mph or 965 km/h).

NASA has even created an alert system for you to spot the ISS. You can simply provide your email or phone number, and NASA will notify you before the International Space Station passes overhead. You can set up the alert on the Spot the Station website.

How often does one expect to see the space station?

It depends on where you are located in the world. Sighting opportunities can range from one per month to several per week. Keep in mind that it has to be dark (night) where you are, and the International Space Station has to be passing overhead. Additionally, it would be better if there’s no light pollution, as it makes spotting the ISS easier.

Video: International Space Station (ISS), as seen from Earth

In the video below, the International Space Station passes over the Bay of Biscay and Southern France, as viewed from an amateur astronomer’s roof in Cheshire, northwest England, on June 19, 2012.

At its closest point, the ISS was 800 km (500 miles) away but moved to about 1400 km (875 miles) as it passed into the low cloud to the East.

Please note that this video is sped up by 3 times.

Tracking the International Space Station: The ISS as seen from Earth


M. Özgür Nevres


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