I remember the first time my class took a field trip to the Denver Planetarium. I was awestruck, to say the least, staring at the oddly-shaped projector in the center of the room before the lights were dimmed. I just melted into the seat — staring at the dome of stars suddenly above me. It was simply amazing to see.
However, now that I’m older — and have a son of my own — I’ve discovered that the city I live in closed down their planetarium. It’s harder and harder to learn about the constellations, unless you’re looking at books. I was searching for way to give my son an exciting, hands-on learning experience. Whether as a father-son moment or with his Scout troop, I wanted share my joy about the stars.
What I found were two similar, but different, apps for the iPhone and iPad. Star Chart uses the GPS system on your phone. You simply hold it to the heavens and the app labels what you’re looking at in faint illustration overlays. Additionally, just touching the image brings up the science data of what that object is.
You’re also able to go into Tools and tap on a specific item — the screen brings up a small arrow to guide you to the actual object you are looking for. It’s quite a handy reference, especially for new stargazers who might only be able locate Orion’s belt and the two Dippers.
The other app, SkyView, is similar but has many more features — such as when you tap the planets, it brings up the trajectory path so you can find it later. Also, they’ve built in a few animations on the planets page that allow you to bypass the planet’s detail.
SkyView is actually tracking the satellites and space station as well. Looking into the night sky (or daylight for that matter), you can track the Hubble telescope, the International Space Station, or even a rocket booster that was jettisoned back in the 1980’s during a launch.
I hope this article helps you (whether you have children or not) to look at the sky with a new appreciation and context — not only from the stargazing people of the past, or the satellites or man-made objects of the last 50 years, but of the planets and the stars themselves where, one day, future generations will visit.
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