This evening and tomorrow night in North America, the planets Venus and Jupiter are extremely close to the crescent moon in the early evening. I snapped this photo tonight from our front yard in Oklahoma City and shared it via Instagram to Twitter, FaceBook, and Tumblr (simultaneously) for my daily 365/366 shot of the day.
Stargazing is an inherently good activity. One of the best elective classes I took as a senior in high school was astronomy. Our teacher used a slide projector to show us constellations, and I we had to memorize quite a few of them along with major stars in some of them. Whether or not you’ve taken an astronomy class and remember anything from it, there are some great mobile applications today which can assist in constellation and star identification in the night sky. I tried Distant Suns Lite months ago and was not very impressed, but this evening I used Star Walk on my iPhone for the first time and was VERY impressed. Star Walk uses GPS location information on the iPhone to make it a cinch to identify celestial objects. Here is the Star Walk view of tonight’s planetary and lunar dance on the western horizon.
I’m looking forward to using Star Walk more as our spring and summer evenings approach in the central United States. It’s a great app, I encourage you to check it out! When I showed my 8 year old daughter the constellation Orion a few weeks ago (using Distant Suns Lite) she was INCREDIBLY excited. It was the first time she’d seen that kind of constellation drawing overlay on top of actual stars, and it made a big impression on her. Star gazing apps like these provide great ways to “make the invisible visible,” and I really dig those kinds of transformative uses of technology. I’ve used different kinds of paper-based star maps in the past, but nothing beats having a smartphone app like Star Walk right in your hand to see constellations. Of course we still wonder, “Who REALLY thought that looked like an animal / person / other object…” but at least we can visualize more accurately the interpretations of others who have gazed at the stars many more years than we have.
Do you have other apps you like for star gazing? If so please share them as comments.
I’ll admit I’m looking at the planets with more imagination these days, since I’m reading “A Princess of Mars” by Edgar Rice Burroughs. (free via Project Gutenberg) It’s the “mother tale” of modern science fiction books as well as movies, and is the book the new Disney movie “John Carter” is based on. What a great imagination Burroughs had! It’s wonderful to look up at the sky after reading his creative thoughts and say, “I wonder…..”
Here’s wishing you happy star gazing in the weeks to come!
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- Live from the OK State Superintendent's Dropout Summit - 2009
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