The Sciences

The ISS sails above the waves

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitDec 29, 2010 12:00 PM


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I'm fairly well-acquainted with the night sky. I love to go outside and just look at the stars, with or without binoculars or a telescope, and over the years I've come to think of the sky like I do my neighborhood; warm, friendly, and familiar. But not everyone is, of course. I think, given the chance, most people would find a lot more to the sky than they would've thought. So I encourage curiosity, and do what I can to get everyone to go outside and look up. That's why I was pleased to hear of an effort to do that this week: ISS Wave, a project to get people outside when the International Space Station is passing overhead, and get them to wave at it.

I know, the astronauts on board can't see people waving! But that's not the point. The idea is to get people outside, to get them to look up, to have them understand that there are people up there, flying above the Earth in a football-field-sized tin can that can not only be seen, but is actually the third brightest object in the heavens! It's a cute idea. The ISS Wave site has a live map showing the location of the station over the Earth (you can also get it by going to Heavens Above and entering your location) and the locations of people who have waved. You can enter your own wave by using Twitter; tweet the hashtag "#isswave" followed by your location (examples are listed on the map) and it will automatically update the map. You can follow ISSWAVE on Twitter as well to get updates and info. People are encouraged to get out this week and do it; the project informally ends on December 31. I know a lot of people would be very surprised to know they can see the ISS easily with their own eyes, and I bet a lot of 'em would be very excited to do so. And I can think of two easy outcomes of this: one is that they'll learn more about the sky and what's up there. The other is that by doing this they'll get a connection with the sky. That's invaluable! Once people feel like they have a emotional attachment to something they're far more likely to want to learn more about it, do more about it, and remember it. That moment of connectivity is something I always strive for as an educator, and ISS Wave is a pretty nifty way of being the connector.

Related posts: - Riding the sky - Ten years of the International Space Station - And I saw a star rising in... the WEST? - Two solar ISS transits!

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