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Sky Map app can make you a star expert

August 15, 2010 - Art Smith

The recent Perseid Meteor Shower provided backyard stargazers a real show. Yeah, I know, star watching is not all that exciting most of the time, however, watching the night sky was once one of the few entertainment choices people had.

New technology now provides a useful way to make stargazing cool again. Google Sky Map, a free app for the Verizon Wireless Droid, adds a whole new level to star watching.

I’ve never been one to know the difference between Orion’s Belt and Taurus. I have used Apple’s iTuneU to listen to an astrology class from Ohio State, without seeing things though; the lectures can be a bit difficult to follow.

Google Sky Map can make anyone a star expert, simply aim your phone at the sky and the phone will display the stars and planets on the screen, clearly labeling each of them.

You can also use the Internet browser on the phone to find out information about stars. Vega, one the brightest stars in the sky, is 25 light years away and served as the North Star 14,000 years ago.

Planets pop into the sky in what seems to be a fairly random fashion. Sky Map lets you know for instance, that the “bright star” in the western sky recently was actually Saturn.

The app works because the phone knows where you are at in the world because of the built in GPS. It also knows how you are holding the phone because of the built in compass. These two factors together allow the phone to know exactly what is behind the phone when you hold it skyward.

Smart phones like the Droid and the iPhone are key ways people now access information they need, sometimes through apps like Sky Map or through more conventional browser based searches.


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