With temperatures peaking in the low one-hundreds these days, the most pleasant time is night time when it comes to being outside (unless there is a waterslide involved). Is there anything fun and family friendly that you can do at night that doesn’t include eating funnel cake, or movie popcorn, or otherwise spending lots of money? Why yes, yes there is. How about some star gazing?
I took an astronomy class in college–you know, back in the day–and while I remember some of the science behind stars and the universe, mapping out the night sky is way beyond my recall. But now I’ve discovered Google Sky Map, so it’s a moot point, so long as I have my phone or tablet with me.
As with all Google apps, it’s free. The fun with this one is that all you have to do is open the app, hold your phone out to the sky and it will map out the constellations and label the stars you are looking at. This is the most basic level of the app. Tap the screen to show the orange side menu and you can eliminate the different aspects that the map shows and labels to make the screen less crowded.
It’s a great way to appear astronomically informed without taking an astronomy class (or after forgetting an astronomy class), to make the night sky more interesting, or to impress a date.
In the menu there is the option to do a search. You can look for for specific stars, constellations, galaxies, nebulae, planets…etc. Anything astronomy related, goes. So if you’re dying to know where Scorpius is, just do a search.
You can also “time travel” which is where you put in a day and time and Google Sky Map will show you what the sky will look like at that time and even continue to move, to show you how the sky will look as the earth continues to rotate.
The Gallery is one of my other favorite parts of the app. Google has a photo gallery of really cool looking sights throughout the universe, of different galaxies and nebulae and the like. The app gives you the option to find it, which works the same way a regular search does (see photos above). Unfortunately you won’t be able to see any amount of detail unless you’re using the proper equipment (read: telescope). They’ll look just like any other star.
So this free app is the way to go if you’re an astronomy enthusiast, or someone who is looking for a fun evening. It makes finding objects of interest so much easier, as well as putting a name to the things you already see in the sky. Great for camping, when you are far away from all the light pollution of more highly populated areas!
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