Mumbai’s night skies aren’t known for its incredible clarity so much as the cut-it-with-a-knife smog that seems to envelop it as its very own. That’s what makes last night’s sighting and capture by Mumbai Mirror lensman, Raju Shinde, that much more enthralling. Orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 400 km, the International Space Station was caught at the perfect moment (7.40 p.m. last night) from the Time of India’s Fort office’s terrace.
How often does this happen?
In truth, the habitable satellite is the second brightest object in the sky after the moon, and orbits the Earth at the incredible speed of roughly 28,000 kilometer per hour, and orbits the Earth (and sees a sunrise) once every 92 minutes. As such, it shouldn’t be as rare a sighting as it is in Mumbai, considering its exact time and location of appearance is tracked every single day by NASA, and can easily be accessed by anybody who’s interested. However, the exact timing, location and the clarity of Mumbai’s heavily polluted night skies don’t often collude to provide us with the stunning image of the satellite gliding over and across the city like some sort of distant battlestar galactica fantasy. As Director of the Nehru Planetarium, Arvind Paranjpye explained to the Mirror, “it’s always a thrill to spot the space station from Mumbai. But the sightings are not random; mathematics determines the time of the sightings. One can see the initial path of the satellite as it is reflected due to the sunlight. But by evening, it slowly starts disappearing due to the shadow of the earth.”
Why can we see it?
Besides being closer to us than most heavenly objects, it’s the massive size of the space station (at 357 feet long, it’s as big as a sports stadium) combined with the sun’s reflectiveness on it that makes it so easy to spot in a clear sky.
What happens on the ISS?
Perhaps the most enamoring feeling of them all upon viewing the station from Earth is the knowledge that at any given point, there are at least 5-6 astronauts on it, living, working, and researching different varieties of projects, many of them carrying on life in Space just as we would on Earth for as long as 6 months to a year. Most recently, Astronaut Scott Kelly handed over company of the ISS to astronaut Tim Kopra after spending nearly a year in space detailing the effects of microgravity on the human body and taking some incredible photos of our world from above. Kelly is of particular interest to scientists as he also has a twin brother named Mark who acted as a control subject by remaining on Earth. By studying them both and understanding the anomalies, scientists will be able to minimize the risk astronauts experience in space. So far, the only information they’ve released is that Kelly added two inches to his height during his time in space.
When can you see it again from Mumbai?
Tonight is actually a really good night! If the skies are as clear as they were yesterday, you should be able to spot the satellite at exactly 8:27 p.m. and it will be visible for an entire two minutes. It would be an even smarter idea to grab a telescope or binoculars if you have access to a pair, and get to a place with a little bit of height if you want to have the best possible view. Happy hunting, tag us @homegrownin on instagram if you manage to get a picture.