The Santa and Rudolph sleigh will be visible in the sky on Christmas Eve. It will, in fact, be the International Space Station orbiting 250 miles up in space over the UK. But if you want to get your kids excited and into the festive mood, tell them it’s Santa Claus hurrying to get the last Christmas presents delivered.
The ISS (International Space Station) is the largest object humans have ever made for space. It weighs 45 tonnes and measures an incredible 356 feet (109 metres) from end-to-end, i.e. slightly larger than a football field.
According to NASA, ISS is a microgravity laboratory in which six crew members live and work while travelling at five miles per second, orbiting the Earth once every 90 minutes.
VirtualAstro’s message to all British kids – look out for Santa and his sleigh on Christmas Eve. (Image: https://twitter.com)
As it whizzes around the Earth, its giant solar panels catch the Sun’s rays, making it shine like a brilliant star. On Christmas Eve, adult Britons could easily mistake it for Santa’s sleigh, couldn’t we?
VirtualAstro, who regularly publishes ISS’ positions over Earth, says that the space station will be directly above the United Kingdom late in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, rising in the west at 16:42 hours, and setting in the south east at 16:50 hours.
“When the ISS passes over it will appear as an incredibly bright star like object or plane without flashing lights moving across the sky, it can be at times the brightest object in the night sky second to the Moon.”
“As the station rises (from a westerly direction) it usually gets brighter but can be a challenge to spot at first. Make sure you have checked where it will rise from.”
Christmas Eve could be the moment your child’s love for astronomy is born. (Image: https://twitter.com)
While children aged up to six or seven years may be super-excited at the chance of seeing Santa doing his Christmas duty, for older kids the event is a great opportunity to learn about the ISS, space travel and astronomy.
The ISS has been continuously occupied for the past 15 years (since November 2000). During that time, over 200 people from 15 different countries have visited.
Crew members spend approximately 35 hours each week carrying out research in several disciplines to advance scientific knowledge in Earth, physical, space, and biological sciences for the benefit of humans living on our home planet.
According to traditional lore, Santa Claus’ sleigh is led by eight reindeer: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder (variously spelled Donner & Donder), and Blixem (variously spelled Blixen & Blitzen). Rudolph was added in the 20th century.
NASA Video – Preparing Thanksgiving food in space
While astronauts aboard the ISS are unable to step outside and fire up the turkey fryer, they still celebrate Thanksgiving with a feast of smoked turkey, candied yams, cornbread dressing and many other classic holiday favorites.