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Can You See The ISS With A Telescope?

Are you considering investing in a telescope, or perhaps you’ve recently, or just ordered one? Are you wondering what you will be able to see with it. What about the ISS specifically? Well, you’ll be pleased you dropped by. Here is everything you are going to want to know about observing this iconic space station.

So, can you see the ISS with a telescope? You can see the ISS with a telescope, but you can’t achieve this with just any telescope, and it also depends on how much detail you’re looking to get out of your view. A telescope with that’s designed for tracking, allows the use of a finderscope, has substantial magnification, and a stable mount is best.

Even though the ISS travels thousands of miles per hour and seems quite far away, you can still get a glimpse of it with the right equipment. 

Of course, this may take a little planning, and it may not always be visible due to a variety of conditions, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

So, let us continue to explore what is required before turning to how you can go about observing it; and what to expect should you try!

What Kind of Telescope Do You Need to View The ISS?

Considering the ISS isn’t stationary, it won’t always be in the same place when you’re looking for it. The best tool at your disposal here is a telescope that features a finderscope, as it’ll help you track the trajectory of the ISS. 

Most of us are used to seeing the light from the ISS on a clear night, but with the help of a telescope, you can see it in much more detail. 

If you set a little ahead of the trajectory, then it’ll give you enough time to get a look as it passes by your scope.

You may go through some trial and error to get the best view, but if the ISS is in view, you’ll have more than enough time to get more than one look.

The level of magnification you have available will determine how clear of a view you get, and although it may not be crystal clear, it’s still better than simply seeing a blip of light. 

Once you have the ISS in sight, you can manually adjust your telescope to follow it along as it passes your crosshairs. 

Eventually, the ISS may be out of sight due to its position or even weather conditions, but you should get an ample amount of time with it in view to be more than satisfactory.

If you’re hoping to gain the most out of your viewing experience, it’s all about staying on top of the trajectory of the ISS.

Don’t get too discouraged if you aren’t able to hone in on it within a few tries, as it could take a bit to find your center with your telescope. 

It’s also important to understand that you may have to take a different approach to find the ISS depending on the day and time you search for it.

You also want to consider the level of magnification you’re using, as 65x seems to be the optimal choice for those who have experience viewing the ISS.

The space station resides 253 miles from the Earth, so it requires a telescope that can handle that distance without the image being too blurry for your viewing. 

Overall, it’s entirely possible to view the ISS; you just need the right equipment to track and view it easily.

What Telescope Is Best For Observing The ISS?

Thankfully you have a few options to choose from, but the best telescope for observing the ISS will come with an array of features. You want a telescope that’s great for tracking and allows the use of a finderscope, substantial magnification, and a stable mount. 

Even if the features sound fairly specific, there are many telescopes that come with these benefits and capabilities.

Nevertheless, you still want the best telescope for the job, and there is a handful that you can choose from. 

Orion XT6 Dobsonian

The Orion XT6 Dobsonian telescope is popular among those who like to track objects in outer space. It comes with an entry-level price, so it won’t break the bank and is extremely easy to set up.

The telescope is built with a stable mount and 6-inch mirror and has the ability to view brighter deep space objects. You’ll also get the benefit of a beginner stargazer’s toolkit to help you navigate the night sky.

Read more: Orion SkyQuest XT6 vs XT8 [Which Telescope Should You Buy?]

NexStar 6SE

Another option you can consider is the NexStar 6SE telescope from Celestron. This brand is well-known in the astronomy community, and they make stellar equipment that boasts all kinds of features.

It’s a computerized telescope with a 6-inch aperture, including a fully automatic GoTo mount to make your job a little easier.

Users will also have access to a database of 40,000 celestial objects and multi-point alignment, which is great for tracking. With its simple construction and detailed features, you’ll be more than equipped to get a look at the ISS and track its trajectory.

Read more: Celestron Nexstar 6SE Review [Should You Buy This Telescope?]

NexStar 8SE

If these aren’t exactly what you’re looking for, you could take it one step further and consider the NexStar 8SE telescope from Celestron.

This telescope may come with similar features, but it’s a highly powerful solution that’ll be able to see much more than just the ISS in pristine detail.

Its SkyAlign technology, 8-inch primary mirror, and tracking capabilities make for an easy night of stargazing.

Many telescopes require you to take a manual approach to track objects. Although that’s definitely possible with the right skill set, it can still provide challenges that may lead to missing important moments. 

Read more: Celestron NexStar 8SE Review [My Experiences With This Scope]

How To Observe The ISS With A Telescope?

To successfully get the ISS within your view, it all depends on your telescope and tracking capabilities. If you’re doing it manually, you want to figure out the trajectory of the ISS and slowly follow it as it passes your view. 

This means you need a telescope that’s not only stable but has fluid pivoting features, as the slightest movement can make you lose the ISS entirely. 

Manually tracking the ISS may require a little more work, but once you’re dialed into its path, it isn’t too hard to stay on track; you just have to keep a close eye on its position.

If you don’t have a problem with spending a little more money, you can invest in a telescope that can track objects all on its own. 

This frees up some of your viewing time so you can focus on the experience rather than manually moving the telescope to keep up with the position of the ISS.

Considering the distance of the ISS and the size of the Earth, it looks like it’s moving relatively slow, and even if you lose track of it for a moment, you can still see its light with the naked eye to help you recalibrate.

You also need to keep in mind that weather conditions are important for viewing the ISS.

You always want to have clear skies if you’re trying to keep track of the space station.

If it happens to pass even a single cloud, you can easily lose track of it and the trajectory you were locked into.

Don’t worry about getting another chance to view the ISS, as it’s available many times of the year. When you finally get locked into its trajectory, it isn’t too difficult to follow as it passes across the sky. 

Now, if you have a tracking telescope that comes with auto-tracking capabilities, it can help provide a more leisurely experience.

Once you have its auto-tracking features locked onto this ISS, it should be able to continue tracking the ISS with minimal intervention on your part.

Aside from your telescope’s tracking abilities, you need to make sure you have sufficient magnification to get an outstanding look at the space station; otherwise, tracking could be a moot point.

As mentioned earlier, 65x seems to do the trick, but the higher the magnification, the better the chance you’ll have a clear and detailed view of the ISS.

What Does The ISS Look Like Through A Telescope?

Regardless of the quality of your telescope, you can expect some details to look somewhat blurry, but you’ll still be able to see definitive colors and outlines of various parts and features of the ISS. 

Though, your exact view will come down to the overall quality of your telescope, as numerous features have an effect on how clear an object looks.

Nevertheless, you can get an astounding look at the ISS with proper magnification, a stellar field of view, and a high-quality eye-piece. 

With the naked eye, the International Space Station looks like a bright star passing across the sky, but once you look through your telescope, you’ll be able to see the man-made space station in all its glory. 

Even if some features are a little blurry, seeing the ISS in motion is an amazing experience.

Then again, many telescopes can provide a high-quality view of such an object, many of which don’t have this issue with blurring. 

A good example would be the massive telescopes that reside at observatories, as they’re capable of viewing deep space objects that are far beyond a standard telescope’s capabilities.

As always, you want to take note of the weather conditions, as the smallest discrepancy in the sky can dwindle your view of the ISS.

Nevertheless, if you have proper magnification, even the smallest details of the ISS will blow your mind, and you’ll be able to see light reflecting from the space station.

Due to the jet-black background of outer space, it may be difficult to tell the ISS is actually in motion, but as you track its trajectory, you can ponder its beauty and significance.

It’s bound to reflect different strengths of light as well, depending on its position.

Your view can be a tad more detailed if the sun’s light is reflecting off the ISS, and even if the sun isn’t helping, you should still be able to see every part of the ISS in surprising detail.

Always remember the amount of detail you get out of your viewing experience depends on the quality of your equipment. 

If you’re looking for the best view possible, expect to spend a little more on your telescope, as they can get quite expensive as their capabilities expand.

When To Look At The ISS With A Telescope?

First, it’s important to note that the ISS can’t be viewed from the north or south pole due to its orbital plane or when it’s passing through Earth’s shadow. Outside of that, the best time to view the ISS is during clear weather, around dawn or dusk. 

You can also utilize tools online that tell you when the ISS will be in view from your particular location, which makes tracking much easier. 

Based on where you live in the world, you may have to travel a bit to get the best view, but it can be easily seen in cities and rural locations.

Timing is everything when it comes to catching the ISS overhead, and your best shot is within a few hours of either sunrise or sunset.

Once again, with the help of tracking tools online, you can hone in on almost exactly when the ISS offers the best view based on where you live.

You can also find information on when the ISS will be its brightest, thanks to the light the sun provides.

Regarding the weather, this may be easier for some people than others, as it’s rare that the sky is entirely clear for hours on end.

Many people live in areas where clouds are fairly normal at night, which is another reason that some travel may be required for the best view.

To ensure you’re able to track the ISS without any issues, you need to ensure the weather won’t get in the way and block your sight. 

If you live in an area where this is impossible, you’ll want to find the nearest location that’s prone to clear skies. In many cases, this can be in rather rural areas or destinations that don’t necessarily receive a lot of rain.

It’s possible to track the ISS with minimal cloud coverage; you’ll just have a harder time keeping track of its trajectory during your session.

No matter how much time you’ve spent tracking objects in outer space, if you use the tips in this article and the many tools telescopes provide, you’ll become a pro in no time.

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