** Aurora alert: The northern lights were seen last night from high latitudes, and there’s a good possibility they’ll return tonight. If you live in the northern U.S. and Canada, keep a lookout to the north after nightfall for activity. **
Sooner or later I’ll end up owning an iPhone or iPad. I thought the use of “two fists to the right of the moon” to find a star or planet wouldn’t be necessary when green lasers became commonplace. Pointing the Star Wars-like beam from one celestial object to the next eliminated the need to stretch a fist to the sky. Now that’s just so passÃ©! It’s been superseded by – what else? – the mobile phone.
Some of the new astro apps astound with their ease of use, data and beautiful graphics. One of them, SkyView, was brought to my attention by a friend, who was amazed when his friend pointed his iPhone at the floor and said: “There’s Pluto.” With SkyView you can find any planet anytime no matter where it is. When not directly visible in the night sky, your screen will show it superimposed on whatever’s in the way, be it a building, the ground or your mother telling you to get out of the house and find a job. Sort of like having X-ray vision.
That’s not all. The app shows when and where the sun and moon rise and set – ideal for planning photos at those special times – and helps you find stars and constellations in the sky using “augmented reality” graphics. Need to confirm that bright star is Vega? Point the phone and find out. It even has the ability to track satellites like the space station and shuttle, turn itself into a scientific instrument with data readout on your location, compass directions, etc. and displays information about the object of interest.
Get this app for $0.99 and you’ll never read this blog again. There’s even a free version available. It’s compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPod touch (4th generation), iPad 2 Wi-Fi, and iPad 2 Wi-Fi + 3G. Another similar and very popular app is Star Walk from iTunes for $2.99.
Other excellent astronomy programs for mobile phones include the Galaxy Collider, which lets you see what happens when galaxies collide in space. Great for those of us who feel like we have no control over our lives. Consider it a preview for when the Andromeda Galaxy and Milky Way smash into each other several billion years from now. Or take the Grand Tour 3D, an app that lets you visit each of the planets and their moons. Very pretty graphics. And don’t forget Moon Globe if you’re like me and enjoy virtual trekking across the lunar landscape through hi-res photography.
I could go on and on with the list of apps, but instead I’ll let you check out this fellow’s 15 Astronomy Apps for iPhone and Dan Schroeder’s Star Charting apps. Here are more astronomy apps for Windows phones and Pocket PCs. And if you have suggestions for favorite programs, please pass them along by clicking on the Comments link. Thanks!
As much as I like my reality augmented, it’s nice to look at real photographs taken by cameras. I came across this wonderful image of five of Saturn’s moons taken earlier this year by the Cassini spacecraft in orbit about the planet. Rhea at 949 miles in diameter is the largest and closest in the picture, while Dione (698 miles) looks like it’s almost sitting on the rings near the center. Itty bitty Prometheus (53 miles) is barely visible buried in the rings to the right of Dione. Epimetheus (70 miles) lies to the right of the rings and Tethys (660 miles) at far right.