Home / iAstronomy 1.0
by Tom Trusock 09/02/10 | Email Author
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September 2, 2010
Several times a year, I’m usually lucky enough to be asked to present
at a major star party. Typically (but not always) the subject is
gear: What’s hot this year? One of the topics that’s long
garnered the most interest is one that we rarely see covered here on CN
– and yet oddly enough is almost one of the most affordable and
I’m talking about those tools that:
- Make your observing more interesting
- Help you plan your time more efficiently
- Allow you to constantly check in on what’s going on in the
universe around you
- Keep you up to date with various astro happenings and doings
- And blow off wor… Er… divert yourself from the everyday
drudgery that you may find yourself in.
I’m talking, of course, about astronomy applications for mobile
I’m not only an astro gearhead I’m a tech gearhead – so I have more
useless gadgets floating around my house than any of three local
museums I could name (ok, ok, I live in a small area, but you get the
point). Over the past year I finally decided to break down
and pay the Apple tax. While I’ve got some gripes to pick with
their equipment – most of it admittedly is minor. And honestly I
can see why they cripple some things like they do but others – like
their Bluetooth stack on the iPod touch. Come on here – why in
the world did they make you wait till IOS 4.1 for AVRCP support?
Anyway, all that aside IOS has something major going for it – the App
Store. So, I bought my way in.
Once you get there, you’ll find a bewildering array of astronomy
oriented applications, but picking – heck sometimes even finding – the
right ones can be a bear. So with that in mind, I figured this
would be the perfect topic for a new series of articles.
This time around, I’ll be covering a few of the simpler but must have
freeware/adware applications. Down the road – I’ll be devoting
entire articles to certain programs (Think Starmap Pro and Distant
Suns) but that’s later, so hold on to your hats. Right now, we’ll
start with three of my favorite freebies.
with Iphone, Ipod Touch and Ipad (Moon Globe HD Available for .99)
2.0 or later
This is an amazing piece of software that uses high resolution
Clementine images to display the moon at any time or date of your
choosing with real time shading and illumination, globe mode and
telescope mode (although telescope mode seems like just a simple way to
quickly center and zoom on a chosen target).
Date and time can be changed, and even put in motion at varying
speeds. As you’d expect, the moon can be spun and rotated all
with simple finger gestures.
There are four different selections for labeling of landmarks –
Distance to visible pole and sub-earth point, Terrain (which also shows
space craft landing sites) and a dedicated spacecraft database that
helps them stand out from amongst the 1800+ figures viewable in Terrain
mode. The final mode simply turns off all labeling and lets you
play with your own personal version of Luna.
The views can be reversed and inverted to match your telescope, and
shading may be turned off if you want access to the entire lunar map at
any given time. A terrain features database is accessible from
the options menu and allows you to quickly narrow your specific target
down. It also gives basic information about the feature
selected. Once you’ve switched to globe view, you’re also
presented with a link to a web search, a wikipedia article or both.
There is no night mode, but as this is designed for lunar viewing – you
really don’t need one. This app is fun and educational at both
your telescope and easy chair. Best of all, the price can’t be
Also of note – by the same author, Michael Howard – is Mars
Globe. I’ll be taking a look at that one in another column.
with ads – in app purchase to remove ads .99)
with iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad
3.1.3 or later
Hanno Rein’s Exoplanet is a frequently (daily?) updated database (from
exoplanet.eu and exoplanets.org) with push notification of
discovered extrasolar planets. If you’re remotely curious about
what they’re finding around other stars, this is one to have on your
For the main content of the app you select the item of interest and
drill down to a more content specific screen. Most often used
will be the planetary database. The app presents you with a
graphical indication of how the planet was discovered (transit or
wobble), an (expandable) star chart showing where the planet in
question is located, Orbital overlays comparing the exoplanets size and
orbits to solar system objects,a nd a host of other information.
The latest version also shows the position of all exoplanets with
respect to the galactic coordinate system.
For the frequency of updates alone – this is a must have app.
with iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad
3.1.3 or later
Like faint fuzzies? Well, there’s a project out there you should
know about (and I’m sure most of you already do) – Galaxy Zoo.
It’s a distributed analysis project to enlist folks to help classify
galaxies. And it’s available on your iDevice. If you’ve
used the web app, there are some differences and limitations – but
that’s to be somewhat expected – still, I do wish they would add the
ability to set particular images to your favorites so you can view them
at a later time.
The concept – if you’re unfamiliar with it – is simple. Through a
series of simple questions, the end user assists professional
astronomers in classifying distant galaxies. The app can be used
offline – you simply download a set of galaxies to the device and
you’re good to go. Once you’re connected again that data is
uploaded back to their servers.
This app allows you to view galaxies that hardly anyone has seen
before, AS well as actually make a scientific contribution. How
cool is that? It’s simple and fun. Yeah, I’m a geek – but
I’ll tell you what. I teach high school astronomy, and one of the
requirements has been to classify 300 galaxies on galaxy zoo – 90% of
my class massively exceeds that. This is an amazingly addictive
task, and it’s just been moved into your pocket.
Creating a galaxy zoo account, and logging in will allow your galaxies
to count towards your overall total – but even that’s not
If you’re completely new to this, I’d recommend starting with How To Take Part
at the Galaxy Zoo website – but the rest of us can dive right in.
What are you waiting for? For me, the hardest part about using
this app is wrestling my iPod away from my 9 year old.
That’s it for this one, but there are lots more to come. It’d be
great if you used the forum comments to share your tips and tricks with
these particular programs, as well as kicking in with your own favorite
apps. If you have one you think I’d really like to look at, I’d
appreciate it if you drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org or PM me
in the forums.