ISS Now 2nd Brightest Object in Night Sky with Final Solar Arrays Deployed

The International Space Station should now be the second brightest object in the night sky, following Friday’s successful deploy of the S6 solar wings. Astronauts on board the ISS and space shuttle Discovery unfurled the arrays, successfully carrying out the main objective of the STS-119 mission. “Today was a great day,” said ISS commander Mike Fincke to mission control Friday afternoon. “Today is the day the station went to full power.” The length of the arrays unfurled Friday measures 73 meters (240 feet), tip to tip, with the S6 truss in between. The S6 solar array pair adds 2,926 892 square meters (9,600 square feet) to the station solar arrays, bringing the total surface area to nearly an acre. The station’s arrays now will generate as much as 120 kilowatts of usable electricity, enough to power about 42 854 260 square meter (2800-square-foot) homes.

The station should now be the second brightest object in the night sky –even brighter than Venus, and second only to the Moon.

The S6 blanket box before deploy (behind the arrays unfurled during a previous mission). Credit: NASA TV
The S6 blanket box before deploy (behind the arrays unfurled during a previous mission). Credit: NASA TV

The deployment proceeded without any problems, as the astronauts unfurled the arrays in a gradual process, deploying the arrays half way, then letting the sun warm the arrays to decrease the probability of the “stiction” problem, where the solar array blanket slats stick together due to a protective sticky film on the slats. The solar arrays have been in storage for several years, all folded up. The areas of “ripple” flattened out naturally and the crew and Mission Control reported the array extended to its full length of 35 meters (115 feet) on each side. The new arrays add enough power-generating capacity to double the electricity available for space station science operations, from 15 to 30 kilowatts.

This is great time to take the opportunity to view the station as it passes over North America and Europe. For more information on how to see the ISS, see our previous article on viewing the station.

45 Replies to “ISS Now 2nd Brightest Object in Night Sky with Final Solar Arrays Deployed”

  1. “The station’s arrays now will generate as much as 120 kilowatts of usable electricity…”

    “…the electricity available for space station science operations, from 15 to 30 kilowatts.”

    There is a four-fold difference in power available quoted in this article. Which is the true value here?

  2. “This is great time to take the opportunity to view the station as it passes over North America and Europe.”

    What about the rest of the world?

    Presumably because ISS would be in complete darkness in other nighttime areas for now. A satellite is normally most visible at times when it is still in sunlight, but it’s dark below.

  3. Andrew Says:
    March 20th, 2009 at 8:41 pm
    Isn’t it the third brightest? There is that sun thing up there too.


    The Sun is never in the NIGHT Sky…

  4. We went out to look at it early this morning (from Australia, so there’s the answer to the “rest of the world” question) and didn’t know that the array had already been deployed. But boy did we know it when it went over. MUCH brighter than the last time we checked it out when the shuttle was docked, and yes, definitely brighter than Venus. Awesome!

  5. Meanwhile, it became spring in the Year of Astronomy. And, as a side effect, this is is the greatest contribution to it! A new star in the sky, visible for nearly whole mankind.

    This will influence the public consciousness of spaceflight permanently. To look up in the night sky and to see another star inhabited by human beings out there 😉

    This star will encourage humans worldwide. In metropolises and in slums, in agrarian states and dessert regions. It will inspire children and hard-bitten old guys in every corner of the world. Illiterate and drunken revelers likewise will look up and wonder. “What the feck is that?”

    A new potential for observation and education. Imagine what forms of visual instructions teachers are now able to link to this bright star.

    By and by, this upgrade of the ISS will have an enduring promoting psychological impact on human spaceflight.

  6. Nancy, I like this article, and I have sent the link to lots of people.
    The ISS is clearly visible from where I live (Ireland).
    It also gives rise to much discussion and controversy. Some consider it a powerful symbol of human achievement, others look at it as an intrusion on their vista of Nature.
    I have chosen my own stance on the issue, but I can relate to both points of view.

  7. How would the arrays be resistant so space debris such as the two recent threats? Probably there will be more and the target is now bigger …

  8. hmmm, something here doesn’t add up:

    “enough to power about 42 854 square meter (2800-square-foot) homes”

    a 2800 square-foot-home, that’s a nice large space, a little over 250 square metres… plenty for a family with a few kids and an observatory or study for dad to do astronomy and science. It’s four times the size of my apartment, but nowhere near 854 square metres. This would be larger than two Basketball courts put together…?

  9. While we may marvel at the now brighter space station, this is sign of things to come – a time when there are so many bright orbiting space objects that there will be nowhere to escape to a truly dark starry sky. The light pollution will be coming from above!

  10. I agree with the former comment – no matter where you go you will see them. By by pristine night sky …

  11. Humans love light, Martin. Our ancestors lived in fear of dark places and of night. They were helpless and full of horror by nightfall. The mastery of light set us free.

    “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death, I will fear no evil”

    Today we bring light to whichever places we want to. Are we not like the gods? Or at least more powerful than the mightiest sorcerer of the Stone Age? click! The benefits of our ability to create light always and everywhere do by far outnumber the disadvantages and the costs.

    You know the last words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe?

    “Light! More light!”

  12. Light is important, but so is darkness. We need both, and so do the many animal species that are nocturnal. Not only does excessive light at night ruin stargazing, not to mention sleep, but it also disrupts the natural life cycles of animals that are active at night.

    I don’t think the ISS and other bright man-made objects are the problem as far as light pollution goes, though. The ISS is just another bright star. The problems that cause excessive light at night are streetlights and lights in and around buildings.

  13. Dear Marjorie, that’s exactly what it is. The magnitude of the ISS makes her unattractive as a reading lamp.

    Nevertheless, I think we also could put very large structures into an earth orbit, which would be able to reflect a lot of light. I remember that during the Sovjet era there was a project to lighten Siberian cities from orbit. Or what about a solar sail?

  14. Of course, darkness is important for our health, too.

    “Scientists suspect that shift work is dangerous because it disrupts the circadian rhythm, the body’s biological clock. The hormone melatonin, which can suppress tumor development, is normally produced at night.

    Light shuts down melatonin production, so people working in artificial light at night may have lower melatonin levels, which scientists think can raise their chances of developing cancer.”

    (“Graveyard shift linked to cancer risk”, msnbc, Nov. 29, 2007)

    But on the other hand, prior to the era of light pollution mankind had a strong affirmation to the symbolism of light, as one can detect in the concept of the son of God as the Light of the world. Or likewise: the “Age of Enlightenment”!

  15. I think that eliminating night-time darkness is a very bad idea for reasons that I mentioned in my last post. Hasn’t man done enough damage to his environment? Do we need to inflict even more damage completely unnecessarily?

  16. Light and darkness, sound and silence … you can’t glorifly one above another, since there is no one without another. Today we put light and noise into everything but we watch and listen less. In music, for example, banging is prevailing over “sound of silence”, thus destroying the essence of music itself… etc. Illustrative is a motto “Destroy the silence” on some MP3 sites.

    All in all, I hope Siberia doesn’t become another Broadway 😉

    P.S.: There is (or was) even a web site selling MP3’s with a motto “Destroy the silence”.

  17. Deafness is becoming a major health problem due to people listening to excessively loud music. If you can call what some of them are listening to music.

  18. Due to the rotation of the earth, more than half of the life of the average human would take place in darkness. But humans get 80 percent mof their sensation from their eyes. So it is obvious how precious our light mastering technologies are.

  19. Feenixx, you’re right.

    And I think Nancy has made that kind of mistake before:
    Converting square feet into feet square meters without squaring the conversion rate given for feet vs. meters.

    Multiplying the numbers given in square feet by 0.093 we arrive at

    New panel area: 893 square meters (provided those 9600 sq feet are correct)

    42 Homes of: 260 square meters each.

    Great article though.
    Interestingly, all I got from Heaven’s Above just before the docking of STS 119
    was a SERVER BUSY notice – first time I ever got that. Which probably means the ISS is getting the attention it deserves!

  20. I observed her rise in the west of the Rhine-Neckar area just five minutes ago for the first time with the new panels. Sirius was just 50 degree south, so it was easy to compare brightness. She shined much brighter than Sirius.

  21. Oillsmastery
    What planet are you from?
    First it was black holes that don’t exist- no gravity- now humans do not hurt the environment.
    Wait I know, you are the Anti-Al Gore.

    On another note a few years ago I read that some advertising genius floated the idea of very large earth orbiting billboards that would reach every man, woman and child to share the message of its sponsor while lighting up the night sky for the weary traveler.
    I hope that that day never comes. I for one enjoy seeing the occasional falling star.

  22. I am a troll. I don’t understand science, logic, or even the art of persuasion. All I understand is how to google quotes from famous scientists.

  23. I concur with LOL-ing at the troll.

    But anyway, I look foward to seeing the ISS now. I live in a very light polluted area (most of the time). But I’m always enthralled with Venus when she shows herself to my night sky.

    I do wonder, as not having ever seen the ISS before, because of its close proximity to the Earth, won’t it moving quickly across the sky due to its velocity?

  24. Lets hope just the ISS will be a few dozen times brighter than Venus. Some years ago,
    companies like IBM, Coca Cola,etc wants to place into orbit HUGE orbiting billboards
    so you can see their logos’.!!!! I don’t think the public was too eager for this,but, I am a dark sky advocate,wanting far more efficent street and other outdoor lights to better light up the streets and point downwards instead of lighting up everything and causing glare and light pollution-this would save at least 25% of outdoor lighting costs. Flagstaff Arizona is excellent with this, Phoenix is starting to fix their light pollution-this is wise as they can save much money on energy costs.

  25. to: Marjorie, Layman

    In Middle-Europe we have light switches. Wow! Yes, we can switch lights off if not needed here. And the best thing is we actually do it. Indeed, I catch myself on multitude occassions that I do switch of the light in a room when abandoning it.

    Even worse, I do switch of the engine of a POV while waiting on stop lights that are signaling “stop” to me (not when it says “go”, of course). Furthermore, there are organisations in Germany like the TÜV who make it mandatory that cars that cannot be treaded that way are not allowed to be driven at all.

    I do even close the windows of the POV while using the air condition. Wow²! We also close the doors of our refrigerators. Yes, we can.

    Maybe it’s a form of superior toughness,lol. Maybe it’s a behaviour threatened with extinction. But as long as it is still common among a brought part of the society, we do not accept Al Gore as a role model here but rather as a funny American phenomenon.

  26. dollhopp
    Oh yes Sir we also consider Al Gore as a walking contradiction. He may have a valid purpose- but he does not walk the walk or live the talk. He still flies in his private jet- rides in a tank sized SUV and lives in a palatial sized house. All of which grossly contribute to what he believes ails the planet. Conspicuious consumption deluxe-

    The common folks over here also turn out their lights on a regular basis- not as much to save the planet- more to lower their power costs.
    Me- I want the planet to be saved also

  27. “Hasn’t man done enough damage to his environment?”

    Not really.

    This and all future space stations, spacecraft, satellites will be no more of a distraction than aircraft lights.

    If you want to worry about ‘light pollution,’ consider how much is wasted from surface sources, affecting both the nighttime sky *and* wasting energy.

  28. It seem many posters here are not observers and are more in to technolgy and science and don’t care about the night sky itself.

  29. “It seem many posters here are not observers and are more in to technolgy and science and don’t care about the night sky itself.”

    Dear Martin,

    I don’t know any statistics about the posters here. I don’t know their preferences expressed as a percentage.

    On the other hand, with its new brightness the ISS is an object now with a huge potential for teaching gravitational astronomy.

    Because it is

    a) following the laws of Kepler and of Newton
    b) is easily observable

    Can there be a greater contribution to the public in the Year of Astronomy than this?

    From now on teachers all over the world have a great new resource to demonstrate the laws of celestial mechanics. One can learn so much more now. Students can check up on their calculation formula in reality! Can science be thought and thaught in a nobler way than by combination of theory and observation?

  30. Well, I do not know whether this is a good news. Not so far into the future we may have many space stations similar to ISS. If every one of them is going to be as bright, ,if not brighter, than Venus, will it not be a light pollution from space??!!. How does it help astronomers to have several bright man made objects in sky.

    Future space station designs have to address this.

  31. I remember that guy in the street here with his box full of Eclipse glasses in August 1999. How easy it is to make money with the curiosity of the people. He took twice of the regular price for one piece. He could also have written books on it. Because there was a run on that event.

    There is some money linked to the new brightness of the ISS also, because there is curiosity linked to that new light in the sky.

    Martin, some posters here seem to love an occult sky. How obscure! 😉 Better “let your light shine”.

  32. Martin, some posters here seem to love an occult sky. How obscure! 😉 Better “let your light shine” ;)”.

    I note you wink dollhopf, though I’m on the side of the forces of darkness here. Our obsession with light and eradicating any corner of darknes no doubt stem from primordial fear of darkness but also extendeds through human hubris to crassly leave our stamp on everything everywhere without thought of deletrious affects on the environment and on a our health.

    When I turn the lights down in the planetarium for my groups and a rural starry sky emerges on the dome I always hear sighs of wonder as if a kind of contemplative peace descends upon the audience. There is something deeper going here here. An unpolluted starry sky stirs up something relaxing within the psyche that overcomes that crude primordial fear of the dark.

    As some of the posts indicate here we have lost this sensitivey to the night sky and are addiced to “banishing the dark” and thereby mindlessly destorying our natural hertige – the starry sky that gave us the astronomy and the science that we all love some much here in the first place.

    It would be sad if the only experience of a dark starry sky was left to a planetarium.

  33. Dear Martin,

    yes I know. Some discotheques in the area have a sort of

    Flakscheinwerfer-Batterie on their roofs, swirling pillars of light against

    the sky, not dissimilar to the fingers of searchlights of antiaircraft guns in former wars. It is indeed impossible to see a True Night Sky in these highly populated

    places here in the contemporary Rhineland.

    And you are so right! That there is also that longing you mentioned! I felt a deep

    joy in my heart last time when the true colors of the sky ruled true darkness, but you nevertheless might not believe how also the barking of some wild dogs nearby did scare me in the hills of Crete, while I was all alone in untouched night. It enunciated “Beware!”. Yes, darkness is a mistery to the soul but a source of self-knowledge about cowardliness likewise.

  34. Maybe I should apologize to all native speakers of English here from time to time.

    (btw: the use of the neologism “poster” meant nothing else but the “brief description” of somebody who posts to an internet forum. Sorry for the inconvenience!)

Comments are closed.