Is That Atlantis?
According to NASA, the official landing of Atlantis will be at 5:56 am. Normally, this would be of little interest to us in the east, but on this occasion, it may be possible to see the shuttle on its’ landing approach. Generally, the space shuttle will have 6 or 7 possible landing paths at either Cape Canaveral in Florida or, when bad weather strikes, a location on the west coast. That being said, it isn’t very often that a space shuttle… on its first landing “option” no less… will take a track close to North Carolina. I have heard stories of people seeing the shuttle when it takes off and the flight path passes over the Outer Banks, but never when it’s set to land.
With a sunrise around 6:08am anything streaking into the horizon will come off as a bright, white dot. But with a low trajectory of only 20° above the horizon, it is tough to say if we will get a good view of the shuttle. To be honest, I don’t know how this will look and it’s tough to say “yes you will be able to see it”. I have seen the International Space Station and the space shuttle in our night sky, but this was while both objects were in orbit. The best we can do is set the alarm, jump outside and wave at the final landing of Atlantis and the space shuttle program.
The best way to find 20° is to start by looking straight up in the sky. Straight up is equal to 90° and is the highest angle for “shuttlegazing”. Accordingly, 0° is located where the sky meets the ground. It may help to point one arm straight up (90°) and the other at the sky/ground (0°). Then slowly bring them together in front of you…it may look silly to onlookers, but when they meet in the middle you will have found 45°.
The space shuttle will be visible even lower than this, thus, if you are pointing at trees at 45°, you will most likely not see anything at 20°. Following the same procedure, if you point at 45° and 0°…bring your arms together in the middle, you will have found 22.5° which is roughly the height we want to look at for the space shuttle! Simple and easy. Even easier is the direction. Tomorrow morning the moon will be in the southern sky. Find the moon and you'll find the direction Atlantis will be traversing. Below is the technical information:
Transit Start: SSE (153°) @ 15.3° above horizon
Transit End: E (90°) @ 10° above horizon
Total Transit Time: ~3 minutes
Should the timing change at all from what the video indicates, I will be sure to update the information here. Good luck and be sure to let me know what you see.