International Space Station will make a dazzling appearance

Galaxy gaze: The International Space Station will make a nightly appearance for one week only. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Galaxy gaze: The International Space Station will make a nightly appearance for one week only. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

The clouds will finally part to reveal one of humanities greatest achievements flying through the Australian sky.

For one week only until February 3, the skies above Australia are a little bit more crowded than usual, with the International Space Station (ISS) clearly visible above.

Scientists at ANSTO Australia's knowledge centre for nuclear science and technology said that now is the time to look up at night.

ANSTO Leader of the Centre for Accelerator Science Ceri Brenner says the dazzling sight rivals the planet Venus in terms of brightness and its commanding position as it moves across the night sky.

"To look up and see something moving with elegance and grace across the heavens, knowing it was put there by humans is an awe inspiring and humbling sight," he said.

Dr Brenner said the space station sighting held even greater significance considering how far scientific achievement had come, in such a short amount time.

"It was less than 95 years ago that Sir Charles Kingford Smith and his four man crew made history becoming the first people to fly across the Pacific. Today, we have permanent base in space the size of a soccer field weighing 450 tonnes," he said.

But he warns, just because it's big, don't be fooled into thinking the ISS is slow moving.

"A Bugatti Veyron at top speed can travel seven kilometres per minute. The ISS does eight kilometres per second, meaning it races around the Earth in about 90 minutes. That's 16 orbits per day," he said.

Australia has an important role in studying the effects of galactic cosmic rays on astronauts aboard the ISS. In space they don't benefit from the natural radiation shielding of the Earth's magnetic field.

This month, ANSTO researchers have been testing the response of human cells and living matter to radiation using ion beams at the ANSTO Centre for Accelerator Science, in partnership with French scientists as part of a multi-year project.

This space radiation testing work is set to increase with ANSTO, alongside university and industry partners of the recently established National Space Qualification Network (NSQN) delivering space electronics and device radiation testing capabilities vitally needed to support Australia's own fledgling space industry.

"ANSTO is a vital agency in supporting Australia's entry to group of nation's who explore the stars. Through partnerships with government and private enterprise, multiple projects are already in development," Dr Brenner said.

As more Australian innovations are required as the nation increases our presence in space, ANSTO and the NSQN will be responsible for testing in the evolving field of space technology.

"Given our national history of daring, innovation, exploration and excellence, I'm sure that pioneering Australians such as the late Sir Charles Kingsford Smith would be proud," Dr Brenner said.