24 May 2013

SkyView: virtual skies on a smartphone

I’ve heard some people complain that mobile apps don’t fully utilize the capabilities of smartphones, specifically the gyroscope/accelerometer. One notable exception is SkyView, an iPhone app designed to display sky objects, from planets, stars and constellations to man-made satellites. It’s like virtual reality, with a layer of astronomical information overlaid on the current environment captured through the camera. The sky layer updates automatically as you move the phone around, so you can explore the skies in all directions, even under your feet. It’s a quick way for amateur astronomers to identify the general direction where they can find objects of interest – and the app also has a search function to locate them directly. The app can display the planetary configuration for almost any time in the past or future, making it much easier to plan observations by testing the location beforehand. Most astronomical events are rare enough that you don’t get a second chance at them in a lifetime.

SkyView triple conjunction Jupiter Venus Mercury
This looks like a good spot to see the triple conjunction between Jupiter, Mercury and Venus on the 26th May just after sunset.

Unfortunately in my experience the app tends to lose its bearing and has to be recalibrated repeatedly, a process I haven’t quite mastered yet. Manual calibration by matching the display with objects in the sky is out of the question, as most of them are not bright enough to be seen on the screen and the precision would be very poor. Also the app doesn’t have a database for comets, one of the top interests for sky-watchers, which limits its usefulness.

1 comment:

  1. I am sure that in the near future will exists a database for comets.