Google Sky Map demo

Tomorrow night I’ll finish my Android trial, and I’m honestly not sure which device my SIM card will be sitting in at 7:00. I’ll definitely continue to use both platforms; I just need to decide which one will be my primary device.

In addition to a great notification system and the ability to run background apps, I’ve found another point in Android’s favor, and had a fun time geeking out with it last night. Google Sky Map, which was born in Google’s Pittsburgh office, allows you to do what you’d expect from Google: search the sky. I noticed that none of the daytime/indoor demos really showed the app “in the wild,” so I waited for the moonrise last night and then shot a quick video. I decided to search for the Moon for three reasons: First, I know what the Moon looks like and can confirm the app’s accuracy. Second, it’s the only natural object in the night sky that my video camera is able to capture. And finally, I was hoping that it would lead me to David Moon. He totally freaks out when I find him at night. It’s hilarious.

Here’s my quick demo:

My camera did pretty well on full-auto; I think you get the gist of what’s going on. The bright circle is the Moon. You’ll note that the Moon actually appears a bit to the left of where Sky Map said it would be. It’s possible that my compass needs to be calibrated. The difference could also be caused by the fact that at my location, magnetic north is about 14° east of true north, and the app currently does not account for magnetic declination.

Did you like the music? It’s my first time publishing a video with YouTube’s AudioSwap feature. I chose a short song called “Happy and Happy” because it sounded corny enough to be in one of those science videos you watch in school. I’d also like to note that this is the first time I made use of one of YouTube’s new tags to make sure the video was presented properly. I uploaded a raw HDV file, which is 1440×1080 pixels. But that doesn’t sound like it matches the 16:9 aspect ratio, does it? That’s because DV and HDV use a horrible concept called “non-square pixels” which I’m sure was a good idea at some point for technical reasons, but in today’s world is just an annoyance. So, to make sure YouTube knew to present it as widescreen, I added this tag: yt:stretch=16:9. Worked like a charm, and it meant I didn’t have to do any transcoding on my end.

So, the next time you see one of those articles about “Object X will be visible to the naked eye tonight,” grab your (or your friend’s) Android device and find that object in no time. Or if you want to find something tonight, try searching Google (without the brackets) for [tonight’s sky] or something similar. Before heading outside, however, check to see if the object you’re looking for appears above the yellow horizon line. If it’s below the horizon, you won’t be able to see it without some heavy-duty Earth-moving equipment, so make sure you look up the best viewing time for your area.

Don’t have access to an Android device? Don’t forget you can still explore the sky with your browser or with Google Earth before heading out to find things yourself.

I haven’t done a lot of stargazing in my life, and it’s a bit difficult to do where I live now, but I have a few favorite sky-watching moments:

  1. As a birthday present for me one year in elementary school, my parents won a fundraising auction for an evening with Derrick Pitts at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. We got to look through a pretty sweet telescope on the roof.
  2. In 4th grade, my science teacher hosted an astronomy night. It was temporarily cancelled due to weather but then was back on at the last minute. The next morning, I told my homeroom teacher that I went to the astronomy night and she looked really concerned because she thought it was cancelled. I remember this because she always seemed worried about everything.
  3. When I was 11 years old, I went to an Audubon camp in Maine in August and saw my first meteor shower. I’m guessing it was the Perseids, and it was amazing.
  4. In March of 1997 when my family was on vacation in Colorado, a partial lunar eclipse occurred while the Comet Hale-Bopp was especially bright, and I’m pretty sure we spotted it. At the same time, Hanson’s “MMMBop” was a popular song, and Andy Signore wrote a parody song honoring this and published on the back of the creatively-named S’Edition, a parody of The Edition, our school’s paper.
  5. I saw the Perseids again last summer.

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