With Christmas just around the corner, you will have no doubt noticed that your little ones are getting more and more excited as the big day approaches. We’re not that far off Christmas Eve, and with that in mind, you may wish to add that little bit of Christmas magic to your child’s evening.
Thankfully, Broadband Compare UK has a nifty little trick you can use, with the help of none other than the International Space Station, to make your kids think they have just spotted Santa’s sleigh whizzing across the sky. This trick may even help get them into bed at a reasonable time (Disclaimer: we cannot guarantee that they will go to sleep).
Check out our guide below, but first, make sure that your computer or smartphone has a stable internet connection (connecting it to your home broadband connection is probably your best bet).
Providing there aren't any clouds obscuring the view of the ISS (International Space Station) you should be able to see it at around 4 pm. It might not be easy to spot immediately, as it possibly might not be that dark when you look into the sky, but hopefully, this trick will work a treat for you.
Perhaps don’t promise the kids that you will be able to see it, but you can tell them there is a possibility you’ll be seeing Santa visiting some other children’s homes. This way they’ll be eager to jump into bed and let Santa pop round to your house and eat his mince pie and drink the sherry you left out for him (obviously leaving a fair few presents while he’s there).
You can get a few apps that track the position of the ISS. We’ve listed just a few of the best here and explained just what you need to do to see the space station at the optimal time. It orbits Earth 15 times a day, so if you miss one pass, it may be possible to catch the next one.
GoISSWatch is possibly the best app you can use to track the ISS on your iDevice. It has a nice user interface, which makes it easy to use, and it utilises your iPhone’s compass and accelerometer to point you in the right direction for optimal Santa viewing. The result of this is that you aren’t stood turning on the spot with a panicked look on your face while the ISS flies out of sight behind you.
If you don’t want to use GoISSWatch, then another app you can use is ISS Finder. The app has a night mode built in, which dims the screen so that a bright light isn’t obstructing the ISS from view (it is in space, after all!).
ISS Finder has a star rating system, collated from information that other users have input into the app, which helps you decide which time would be best to view the app, regarding the position in the sky, and visibility.
The user interface isn’t as easy to manage as GoISSWatch, and there is no handy 3D render of the earth and the ISS’ position in relation, so finding it still might be a little tough with ISS Finder.
Both of the apps above only work on IOS. The ISS Detector Satellite Tracker works on Android so that you can use it on your tablet or any Android phone. There is a handy countdown function which works alongside your location services to tell you when the ISS is next going to pass over you, and a display similar to the 3D render available on GoISSWatch is available here too.
There is even a weather forecast built in so you know whether it is going to be cloudy when the ISS next comes your way. The app also has notifications, so you will be told when the ISS will next be along.
NASA has a website that allows you the option to sign up for email alerts, or even text messages, that will tell you when the ISS is next going to fly over your location. While this is great, it really doesn’t beat the apps mentioned above.
Always be aware that the ISS may not always be visible. You can recognise it quite easily, though. It may initially look like an aeroplane, but it lacks any flashing lights, so you will know it isn’t one of those. It can also be confused for a star, but these tend not to fly through space so you should be able to discern if it is a celestial body or the ISS.