Tag Archives: astronomy

iPad Astronomy

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Star Walk for the iPad could quite possibly be one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. You can use the app to look at the solar system and learn any number of things about what you’re seeing. The coolest thing, though, is when you hold the iPad up to the night sky. Pan the iPad across the sky and see the stars enter the iPad and display their names and other information.

The features are aplenty, but the main ones include:

  • 3D Earth View for manual selection of location
  • Star Spotter Function (Digital Compass for 3GS)
  • Cutting-edge graphics
  • Time machine
  • Moon phases
  • Intuitive interface
  • Night mode
  • Deep sky objects (Messier)
  • Meteor showers

Even if you know nothing about Astronomy, you’re going to enjoy this app. This is an amazing way of navigating the night sky. Learning has just become even more fun.

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It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's the International Space Station?

There are times when astronomy amateurs stumble into the photo of a lifetime. For Pixeltop forum member labsmansid, that moment happened yesterday. He worried all morning that he may not even get the opportunity due to the massive cloud cover in his area. Luck was with him, though, when the skies cleared up less than a half hour prior to the time that the International Space Station was scheduled to pass between his location and the Sun.

Some people are comparing this photo to one found on the Bad Astronomy blog. labsmansid takes that as a compliment, and states that photos like this are what got him interested in this hobby of his to begin with.

According to the photographer, the entire event lasted less than a second. To capture this breathtaking moment, he “was using a long telephoto lens with a 2X teleconvertor attached to my Canon 40D camera. The lens front was covered with a special solar filter designed for photographic, rather than visual, use. It lets more light through for higher shutter speeds. In this case, I shot at 1/8000th shutter speed and f/11 at 200ISO.”

A few skeptics are trying to claim that it is all a hoax. If that is true, then you have to give him credit for his ingenuity and creativity. I highly doubt this photo is the result of a “spot on the lens” as one person said. What are the odds that a smudge would look exactly the same as the ISS?

Astronomy for Amateurs

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During our open mic session at the last Gnomedex, my good friend Derek Miller came up on stage to show off some backyard Astronomy that his Dad has done. Derek reminds us all that you don’t have to work at NASA to get amazing photographs of things found in our solar system. All you need is passion for what you’re looking at, and a telescope!

Derek was inspired to show off his Dad’s work after seeing the Bad Astronomer himself, Phil Plait, on stage during the conference.

You can find the amazing picture Derek’s Dad took on his blog. There’s a very cool picture, as well, on Phil Plait’s blog.

Are you a backyard Astronomer? If you have gotten cool pictures like these, leave us a link in the comments section so we can all enjoy them!

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SkyVoyager for the iPhone

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Kevin has sent several videos to us that he recorded during Macworld 2010. This interview is showing us a demonstration of the SkyVoyager App. SkyVoyager accurately shows the sky from any location on Earth, at any time up to 100 years in the past or future. SkyVoyager can show you the sky in same the direction that you’re holding your phone. Shake the phone to activate its compass and accelerometer – now you can identify stars and planets by holding your phone next to them!

You can find any object in the sky by following an arrow that SkyVoyager points in its direction. If you have an older iPhone or iPod Touch, SkyVoyager supports the accelerometer built into your device as well. Tilting the phone now shows you the sky at the same angle that you’re holding your phone. You can stand still without having to twist and stretch your neck. Let your phone do the work for you by moving it around and trying out different positions and angles.

SkyVoyager includes more than 1000 descriptions of the constellations, planets, moons, and stars. It contains hundreds of images from NASA space missions and the Hubble Space Telescope. The descriptions are carefully researched and checked for accuracy prior to adding them to the App.

Thanks, Kevin, for an another excellent interview! Would you like to cover conferences, trade shows, and events in exchange for promotion in our YouTube channel and social media networks? Email me to facilitate the process!

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Death from the Skies: the End of the World?

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Death from the Skies is an aptly titled book. It’s written by my good friend Dr. Phil Plait, otherwise known as the Bad Astronomer. It was written to explain all of the ways the World might end… scientifically speaking.

Plait, an astronomer and author of the popular Web site badastronomy.com, presents in loving detail the many, many ways the human race could die, from temperature extremes and poisonous atmosphere to asteroid impacts and supernovae explosions. Such a state of destruction existed some 65 million years ago, when a giant meteoroid struck Earth, sending up so much flaming debris that the whole planet caught fire and the dinosaurs were wiped out. Solar flare activity could bring on another Ice Age. Worse yet would be a gamma ray burster, a collapsed star whose radiation would be comparable to detonating a one-megaton nuclear bomb over every square mile of the planet. Plait discusses insatiable black holes, the death of the Sun and cannibal galaxies—including our own. Balancing his doomsday scenarios with enthusiastic and clear explanations of the science behind each, Plait offers a surprisingly educational and enjoyable astronomical horror show, including a table listing the extremely low odds of each event occurring. He gives readers a good scare, and then puts it in context.

I knew right away when Phil got the contract to write this book. He was extremely excited about this. We met back when I was hosting Call for Help, and we hit it off immediately. We have the same sense of humor, and he is just hilarious! If you think this is just some boring science book… you have another thing coming.

I just started reading the book, and I’m looking forward to getting through it all. I can’t imagine there could be any better book on this subject. From a purely scientific standpoint, Dr. Plait knows his stuff. Realistically, the World could end. And death could come from the skies. Make sure you check this book out, educate yourself, and have some laughs along the way.


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Where Do You Go for a Bit of Web Fun?

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When I was preparing to do a video on classic gaming, I wondered where I could send all of you to play high quality games. I then remembered a site that has tons of classic games, along with media fun. On Neave, you’ll find things to keep you entertained for days on end.

There are a tons of different things you can try out:

  • Flash Earth – Zoom into Earth using Satellite imagry from NASA, Google Earth, and more.
  • Planetarium – Gaze at stars through your browser using Flash imagry.
  • Games – Lose yourself playing games like Simon, Space Invaders, Tic-Tac-Toe and more.
  • Imagination – Play with wobbly lines, and create your own design.
  • Fractal – Recursive Math? Computer-generated art? Either way, they’re pretty.

You get the idea. Those are only some of what you’ll find over on Neave. The coolest part is that with the games and such, you can embed them on your own website. Paul Neave, you rule. I mean that sincerely.


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Do You Want Some 3D Astronomy Software?

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You ever wonder what would happen if two planets got too close to each other? Or what if one of the planets in our solar system decided to spin out of control towards earth? Well now you can! Bwana did a review of Universe Sandbox for us, and loved it.

Smash planets together, introduce rogue stars, and build new worlds from spinning discs of debris. Explore our solar system in 3D or destroy everything you’ve created with a super massive black hole. Tinker with your creation or sit back and watch the effects of gravity unfold. It’s fun, accessible, and easy to use.

Universe Sandbox is free to try for 60 minutes. After the free trial expires you can continue to open, view, and explore systems, but you can no longer interact with them. Once you buy a license all functionality is restored.

According to Bwana, the possibilities with Universe Sandbox are endless. While it provides great educational information concerning the stars, planets, and solar systems, it also provides endless entertainment with simulations. If you are intimidated by the broad range of options provided, the application provides a “Fun things to do” section, which gives you a quick springboard for powerful simulations in the tool. For example, if you want to see Earth with 200 moons, you can! Or, if you want to create a black hole in the middle of our solar system, you can do that as well in your own sandbox! If you have 3D glasses with you, it supports 3D as well!!


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What is the Best iPhone Astronomy App?

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One of the first things I bought from the App Store is a little program called Starmap. I’m an amateur Astronomer, and just love checking things out in the Galaxy. Sometimes when I’m looking at the stars, I don’t know exactly what I’m looking at. That’s where Starmap could come in handy. The best thing about Starmap is that you can take it with you while stargazing, thanks to your iPhone.

Pocket astronomers will find a screen that shows a sky full of planets, visible stars, named stars, galaxies, and nebulae, and coordinates that you can access and search for from an unobtrusive ribbon of icons. Sensitivity to the accelerometer tips the view vertically and horizontally, and you can pinch and pull the screen to get a closer look at the arrangement of the points of light.

It’s a fair and interesting start, if not a bit static, and the land-locked dreamer in me sees many more interactive possibilities as the tools and technology progress–like a real-time night mode that uses the camera as a telescope to automatically fix the star chart around you and a Wikipedia plug-in that spoon-feeds you information about what you’re looking at. You know, the kinds of extras you’d expect from Google Earth.

Indeed, this is a powerful app. The problem is that at times, it’s unresponsive. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just unusable. When it does respond, it responds so slowly, that I can’t even tell if the app is working anymore. That’s inexcusable. For $12.00, I certainly expected more. For an application to behave like this is totally not right. The idea behind Starmap is phenominal, however… it wasn’t programmed very well. When I try to go back to the home page… the iPhone completely locks up.

So there you have it. While the programmers may have had good intentions, they have some work to do for this to be a viable app. Tell me, what other Astronomy app would you recommend for me to try out? If you’ve had a difference experience with Starmap than I did, please let me know.


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Microsoft's Free Astronomy Software

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Even if you’re not really “in to” Astronomy, you really have to check this out. The things you will see are just amazing. Go ahead… I dare you. Open your eyes, broaden your horizons. You never know what’s out there waiting.

Check out the free World Wide Telescope by Microsoft. The WorldWide Telescope (WWT) is a Web 2.0 visualization software environment that enables your computer to function as a virtual telescope—bringing together imagery from the best ground and space-based telescopes in the world for a seamless exploration of the universe.

WorldWide Telescope is created with the Microsoft high performance Visual Experience Engine and allows seamless panning and zooming around the night sky, planets, and image environments. View the sky from multiple wavelengths: See the x-ray view of the sky and zoom into bright radiation clouds, and then crossfade into the visible light view and discover the cloud remnants of a supernova explosion from a thousand years ago. Switch to the Hydrogen Alpha view to see the distribution and illumination of massive primordial hydrogen cloud structures lit up by the high energy radiation coming from nearby stars in the Milky Way. These are just two of many different ways to reveal the hidden structures in the universe with the WorldWide Telescope. Seamlessly pan and zoom from aerial views of the Moon and selected planets, as well as see their precise positions in the sky from any location on Earth and any time in the past or future with the Microsoft Visual Experience Engine.

I also have another neat program to tell you about. I received an email from Erick, just after finishing the recording for this video. He wanted us to check out Stellarium. This is also a free program, which does virtually the same thing as Microsoft’s World Wide Telescope. With Stellarium, you can also choose “night mode”. The best part of Stellarium is that it works on ALL platforms, including Linux.

Let me know what other free and unique or fun software you know of, that others of us haven’t heard of yet. I’m always willing to check out something different and new… and pass along the cool stuff to everyone else.


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Register or Name Your Own Star for Free

I received a random email from one of you (‘regnierericd’) this morning. It was one of those ‘Name a Star’ things. I was a little leery, so I passed it off to the best Bad Astronomer I know. Phil wrote back:

Hey, nifty! I like this, they aren’t a scam like the International Star Registry. I’ll have to promote this, and maybe talk to them. There’s more they can do…

For example, I looked up your star on SIMBAD, a database of astronomical objects. I found out it’s a K0 star, meaning it’s a little cooler than the Sun (maybe 4000 Kelvins). I don’t know if it’s a normal star like the Sun or if it’s a giant; I couldn’t find that info. But if it’s a main sequence (normal) star like the Sun, it’s a little less massive (about 0.8 times the Sun’s mass) and smaller (radius = 0.85 Sun). Those numbers are rough.

The Chris Pirillo Star

The distance was a bit tougher; it’s never been measured for this star. But knowing what kind of star it is and how bright it is, I can estimate the distance as 100 parsecs, or about 325 light years (again, if it’s a normal star). There are about a million stars within a sphere centered on the Sun and 100 parsecs across, just so’s you know.

The designation they gave it isn’t quite right. It’s SAO 5615, where that stands for Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. It has lots of names, but that’s as good as any.

I also went to a server that generates star field images from real digitized sky surveys. The image is attached; your star is the faint one in the exact center. 🙂


SAO 5615