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Space Shuttle Endeavour: See the last flyby early Tuesday morning

The Space Shuttle Endeavour will be visible in the night sky early Tuesday morning. When can you see Endeavor, on it's last mission, and where should you look?

By Joe RaoSkywatching Columnist, / May 31, 2011

The space shuttle Endeavour undocks from the International Space Station Sunday, May 30, 2011.

NASA TV/Reuters


With NASA's space shuttle Endeavour undocked from the International Space Station late Sunday, skywatchers across much of the United States and southern Canada are in for a real treat: They'll have one last chance to see Endeavour in the night sky before the shuttle retires for good.

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The best time to look for Endeavour and the space station will be before sunrise on Tuesday (May 31). Weather permitting, there should be opportunities to see both the Endeavour and space station flying across the sky from many locations. [Photos of Space Shuttles and Station From Earth]

The sight should easily be visible to anyone, even from brightly lit cities. Considering that after this shuttle mission there will be only be one left before the program ends (tentatively set for July 8), the view of a shuttle and the space station flying together will soon be a sight that will pass into history.

IN PICTURES: Space Shuttle Endeavour missions

Endeavour is in the homestretch of its last mission, a 16-day trip to upgrade and resupply the space station. The shuttle launched into space from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 16. Endeavour and its six-astronaut crew are due to return to Earth Wednesday June 1.

Other satellites visible too

The appearance of either the space shuttle or the space station moving across the sky is not in itself unusual. On any clear night within a couple of hours of local sunset or sunrise and with no optical aid, you can usually spot several orbiting Earth satellites creeping across the sky like moving stars. [How to Spot Satellites]

Satellites become visible only when they are in sunlight and the observer is in deep twilight or darkness. This usually means shortly after dusk or before dawn.

What makes the prospective upcoming passages so interesting is that you'll be able to see the two largest orbiting space vehicles in the sky at the same time.

After it undocks from the International Space Station Sunday, on Monday morning, Endeavour should still be visible at a relatively close distance to the space station until its scheduled return to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida early Wednesday morning. [Complete Coverage: Endeavour's Final Mission]

What you can see

Here's what you can expect to see if you have a clear view of the night sky and good weather:

On Monday, Endeavour and the space station will be traveling across North America on southwest-to-northeast trajectories and should appear as a pair of very "bright stars." The space station should appear as the noticeably brighter object and will be trailing Endeavour as they move across the sky.

Across much of the eastern half of the United States, the two spaceships will fly overhead at around 4:46 a.m. EDT, only about 10 minutes after Endeavour has begun maneuvering away from the space station. As a result, the two spacecraft will appear exceptionally close, separated by only about 7 arc minutes — roughly equal to only about one-quarter the apparent width of the moon.

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