Astronomy is one of those great sciences with a rich history and you have the basic equipment built in, the Mark 1 human eyeball. For years people have observed the sky with just their eyes. Astronomy is the oldest of the natural sciences because of this naturally occurring equipment, a clear sky and man’s natural curiosity. Every civilization has a history of Astronomy and uses for it. When you observe the sky, you are in good company from the past. One advance that really pushed us forward was the advent of lenses and combining lenses to get greater magnification. We now had telescopes that could see well and far and life was good. But a telescope is not something you can keep in your hip pocket and it certainly doesnt have any information at the ready about what you are looking at. The telescope does not lend itself to casual observation and most people would have a very hard time trying to read a star map and work out where something in the sky. But we all we want to see what is above us and many of us are curious as to what it is over our heads in the night sky.
Enter the SkyView app which gives you an augmented view of the sky using your camera to give a real view of the sky overlaid with what is in that location and way to tap for more detailed information about any given object. There is an iPhone version and an Android version. I will be writing about the iPhone version but the Android is almost identical so everyone can follow along.
What do you get with SkyView
Here is the basic screen for SkyView in the “daylight” mode. What I mean by Daylight is that the screens are in white and bright. The app has a “night” mode which is a deep red to preserve your night vision when you are observing the sky. This node to the serious observer is very welcomed and even the casual viewer will appreciate not having a bright and white screen in their face at night.
Lets talk about “augmented” and what that means for this app. The app will use the built in camera to provide a background with the stars overlaid on top of it. This good for “seeing” behind something that obstructs your view like a building or landscape. You can also line up the sky’s brightest points with the star map and see exactly what is over your head.
Basics of Sky View
The basic screen has a menu located in the upper left corner which will bring up the buttons of the moon which will let you switch from normal to red night vision. You can video your viewing or turn on or off the augmented viewing with the camera. The music button will enable or disable music and the atomic symbol will let you enable sky object trajectories ( paths). I use this button often to find out where something will be at some later point in time. The wrench is the preferences for SkyView and where to go to calibrate the app. The Compass button will give you a fast way to re-calibrate the app and phone. The Heart will let you review the app.
The slides bars control the intensity of the stars/planets and the size. So you can make things exactly how you want to see them which is handy when dealing with large objects and you want to see more around them or the other way when you want to zoom in some.
The night vision screen is a dim dark red that will preserve your night vision. Anyone who has spent time outside in the dark will appreciate this feature. Even more so if you are away from home at a remote site for your star gazing. Moving about without night vision is an accident waiting to happen. Also, you will find out that when you are viewing dim objects through the telescope, putting a bright phone screen up to your face destroys the ability to see those dim objects for a long while. Many Astronomers will use a red light or red filter on their flashlight for this reason.
An added feature is the ability to tap on an object and bring up details about it. In the screen shot above, I tapped on Mars and the app brought up a few details on Mars. You can do with this virtually any object in the sky including burned out boosters or satellites floating by. In the shot below, you can see the International Space Station and some boosters floating near by. You can also see the dotted line of the projected course.
You can also move your finger along the course and see where the object will be at a given time. In this example, I can see where the ISS will be in 15 minutes which doesnt sound like much but with the speed the ISS travels, it will move a fair distance in the sky.
The SkyView app also has a cool widget you can load up which will tell you what items of interest will be visible in the sky and when.
The best part of Sky View is that it’s FREE!! there are some in app purchases but the basic app is a free. The IOS app is also compatible with iPads along with iPhones and the iPad brings a lot more real estate to the night which is useful if you have an audience.