Join Lynda.com Staff Authors for an in-depth discussion in this video Using mobile apps for amateur astronomy, part of Home Techonomics.
- I love looking up at the night sky and enjoying the incredible views our solar system has to offer. Whether you're setting up a telescope to get a view of mars dabbling in astrophotography or just checking out the moon with a good pair of binoculars there are a few essential apps for smartphones and tablets that I recommend to make your night go much more smoothly. Hi, I'm Nick Brazzi Welcome to another episode of Home Techonomics. Until very recently locating most objects in the night sky took lots of research and lots of patience.
But now this is just another place where technology is making our lives even easier. There are lots and lots of apps for amateur astronomers available so feel free to browse and try out a bunch of different ones. In this movie I want to talk about the apps that I use myself every time I go out for a viewing. Before getting started with these apps I want to point out that I still use books and websites to get an idea of what I'm looking for. You can use apps to help plan for your viewing but I usually research what I'm looking for before I jump to the apps.
The Monthly Sky Guide from Cambridge University Press is the quick guide that I usually use to see what's going on in the night sky. So first things first. You're going to need to locate whatever object you're looking for. Usually this means planets, constellations or messiah objects. You're going to need to know what part of the sky you're looking for as you plan your night. And you'll probably need some help locating the object in the sky when you're out in the field. I generally use Pocket Universe which is a $3 app for iPhone and iPad.
This is the one that I use but it's hard to make a recommendation because there are so many great apps that you can use for this including the Night Sky and StarTacker which are both available on IOS and Android. With Pocket Universe all I need to do is switch into the virtual sky mode From here I can either do a search to locate an object or I can flip into motion mode. Motion mode uses the compass, gyroscope and accelerometer in your phone to track your movements.
So the phone always knows what part of the sky it's facing. I just point my phone at the sky and as I move around the display updates to label the part of the sky I'm looking at. It's almost like augmented reality in the way that the app labels the part of the sky you're looking at. Even though it's daytime I can use the app to locate where Mars is for example then I can roll the clock forward to see where it will be after sunset. The next app I use a lot is Moon Globe for IOS. There's a similar app for Android called Moon Globe 3D and several other similar apps on both platforms.
The moon is pretty easy to find in the sky. What may not be so easy is finding specific features on the moon. Do you want to find the Apennine Mountains where the Apollo 15 crew landed? Moon Globe can help you find where to look. You can also use the calendar feature in these apps to figure out the phase of the moon for any given day. I like to find a date when the moon is at the right phase for what I want to see. Then switch back to pocket universe to see if the moon will be in a good position in the sky that night.
Now here's a quick tip. Some people assume that the full moon is the best time to view any feature on the surface of the moon but that's not really true. The best time is when the terminator which is the line that separates the light and dark areas of the moon is crossing a feature that you want to see on the moon. During the full moon the entire surface of the moon is lit uniformly from the front which flattens out the features. To really appreciate the mountains or the craters you want to see angular shadows which accentuate the elevation.
So use Moon Globe to find when the terminator is crossing something that you want to see then plan to check out the moon that night. Another important thing if you're using Moon Globe for IOS you can search for anything on the surface of the moon but that doesn't mean it's visible from earth. You can search for Tsiolkovsky crater using the app but you're never going to see it. It's on the other side of the moon. The side that is never facing the earth. So make sure you flip back to the telescope mode after you've located a feature.
Just tap the button in the lower left until it displays as a telescope. This rotates the moon so you can actually see what is actually visible from earth. Once you've planned your evening if you're setting up a telescope then a compass might be very important. A lot of telescope mounts have to be set up facing north. Fortunately the iPhone has a compass app built in and there are plenty of free compass apps available for Android as well. It's simple but it's important. Make sure you've got a compass app ready to go.
Finally there's one more app that I use for every night viewing. Astronomy Flashlight for IOS There's a nearly identical app for Android called Astronomy Flashlight Free. The Astronomy Flashlight app is really simple. It just causes the screen on your phone to glow red. It's an easy way of getting a red flashlight without having to buy another piece of gear. So that' my essential toolkit. A sky tracker like Pocket Universe a moon globe an astronomy flashlight and a good old compass.
You may find other great apps out there. I'm sure that there are plenty that I haven't tried yet but those are the essential tools that I use for every astronomical viewing. And that does it for this episode of Home Techonomics. I'm Nick Brazzi and I'll see you next time for a look at another way home technology is making our lives easier and a lot more fun.