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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 interesting.
I’m talking about those tools that:
I’m talking, of course, about astronomy applications for mobile computing.
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.
Compatible with Iphone, Ipod Touch and Ipad (Moon Globe HD Available for .99)
Requires IOS 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 beat.
Also of note – by the same author, Michael Howard – is Mars Globe. I’ll be taking a look at that one in another column.
Free (But with ads – in app purchase to remove ads .99)
Compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad
Requires IOS 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 springboard.
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.
Compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad
Requires IOS 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 necessary.
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.