How SkyGuide for iOS, a question posed at the perfect time, and the International Space Station coincided for a moment of serendipity…

Since the early 1980’s, my parents have hosted Monday night dinners for our family. My brothers and their families have a standing invitation, and everyone makes it when they can. Over the years, we’ve shared many memorable experiences through the simple fact that we’ve been committed to spending time together.

Last night, we were all sitting around the table talking. I happened to pull out my phone to show a photo to my brothers. As I did, my mother asked, “Do you still have that app that tells you when that rocket or whatever is passing overhead?”

I knew she was talking about SkyGuide and the International Space Station (ISS). In the past I’d shared stories about how my family enjoys watching it whenever we receive an alert on my phone. I’d already swiped up to access my photos, but I thought I’d noticed a SkyGuide notification. I pulled down, and sure enough there was a message from SkyGuide. In fact, it was from one minute ago saying the ISS was passing over.

An app like SkyGuide makes it easy to spot the ISS passing overhead.

I told my mother that “yes” I still had the app. In fact the ISS was passing over right now. I jumped up and headed out into the front yard. It only took a couple of seconds before I was able to spot it. I rushed back in and invited everyone out to take a look.

Once we were outside, we all looked up. Everyone was surprised at how easy it was to see. We tracked it as it went across the sky behind my parent’s house. Then it quickly faded out as it passed into the earth’s shadow.

When you consider all the circumstances that had to conspire for that moment, it was quite extraordinary. First of all, though moderately frequent, being able to watch the ISS isn’t an everyday occurrence. Here’s what NASA has to say about it:

The space station is visible because it reflects the light of the Sun – the same reason we can see the Moon. 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. As such, it can range from one sighting opportunity a month to several a week, since it has to be both dark where you are, and the space station has to happen to be going overhead.

Spot The Station FAQ –

So, last night, the first ingredient was there: the ISS was passing overhead. Next, the sky was clear. Then my mother thought to ask about it at exactly the right time. (I hadn’t mentioned watching the ISS for several months or more.) Finally I had the SkyGuide app on my phone, and it had just alerted me. All those things conspired for a very memorable shared moment of looking up in wonder at the sky.