Month: March 2015

Mobile Devices & Polar Alignment

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PolarFinder

By owning an equatorial mount, you’ll find yourself in the situation to perform a polar alignment to your mount each time you assemble your equipment prior an observation. However, apart from using the setting circles and calculating the polar star position manually, there are a few phone apps worth mentioning that would save you a great deal of time. Before phones and tablets entered our lives amateur astronomers relied on printed paper sheets including an approximate to the polar position reticle sky chart that resembles the finder scope reticle chart in your mount.

Today’s phone apps are able to locate your exact position through the phone’s built-in GPS ability including the exact time and thus calculate more accurately than before the current polar star position allowing you to do a finer alignment to your scope mount.

I will mention three phone/tablet apps starting with the old classic PolarFinder (http://polarfinder.com/) that also exist as Windows and Linux programs available on their website. A version for Mac and Windows phones is on the way *thumbs up*

PolarFinder
PolarFinder
PolarFinder
PolarFinder

This app was the very first one that appeared at Play Store but I never succeeded making the reticle image cover up the entire screen as shown in the screenshot. Also its not very obvious in the reticle as where the polar star should be located at.


Northern Polar Alignment

This is a much simpler version of polar finder that supports only the northern hemisphere. You have to set date and time zone manually as well as your longitude every time you enter the app. It has some static text with information on the screen and it doesn’t look overly impressive by any means. It wouldn’t be my first choice or recommendation to anyone in comparison to what is available out in the app stores.

Nothern Polar Alignment
Northern Polar Alignment
Nothern Polar Alignment
Northern Polar Alignment

PolarFinder

The next app is called PolarFinder developed by Jótzef Lázár and is in my opinion the best choice so far. It uses GPS just as the previous app but has many more options to choose from than any of the previous apps so far.

The best function is that you can change reticle types to ressemble the reticles in the most known mount types. These are Ioptron, Astro-Physics, Losmandy, Skywatcher, Takahashi, Vixen, AstroTrac and StarAdventurer.

The longitude can either be entered manually, or acquired through the phone GPS. You can adjust the markers distance, night mode, date format, star sizes and hemisphere location (north/south).

The image orientation option is greyed out when you choose among telescope types and enabled when you use the “Built-in” reticle type.

PolarFinder
PolarFinder – Reticle
PolarFinder
PolarFinder – Preferences
PolarFinder
PolarFinder – About

AP  Polar Align

For the windows phones and tablets out there you’ll find this neat app that by default in night vision mode. You can choose to either allow the phone enter your GPS location or enter it manually. The night vision brightness is adjustable through a slider and the reticle is very easy to understand. A double tap on the reticle image zooms in for more detail. I would say this app is neat and has a very clean layout. Finally, this app is found for free in the Windows Store.

Reticle
Reticle
Manual Location
Manual Location
Brightness
Brightness
Help
Help

Weather Live on Android

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I’ll continue writing more about other neat apps that I always carry around with me on my phone and tablet. The next in order is something that concerns everyone when it comes to weather forecasts and Weather Live is actually the one that predicts weather outcome the best for your local area.  It is very simple using it and provides information about the humidity, precipitation, pressure, wind strength and direction, average temperature, lowest and highest temperatures, how temperature feels in combination with wind, you can add locations and most importantly check the visibility! The app comes both as a full freeware (with ads) and an ads-free version for a little over a buck. The app comes also in an iPhone version and can easily be found at Apple’s App Store. Weather Live is developed by an app company called Apalon.

I’m adding a few screenshots from my phone that give you an overall idea of the layout.

Complete Overview
Complete Overview
Complete Overview
Complete Overview
Widget Formats
Widget Formats
Preferences
Preferences
Preferences
Preferences
Preferences
Preferences
Preferences
Preferences
Overview Screen
Overview Screen

Android Phone Astronomy

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Mobile Observatory
I’ve been using for quite some time a few apps that I would love to mention. This time I’m promoting something called Mobile Observatory; its current version is 2.6 and has been developed by Wolfgang Zigma. I’m very restrictive when it comes to IT- or other tech-suggestions before I’ve tried things out for quite a while, but this phone app is very neat! For 1½ years now it sends me regularly updates only when I’m entering the app.

Also, it doesn’t force you to update anything if you just want to go ahead and start using it, even though you really want to if you’d like to keep yourself with up to date astronomical events and data. So my suggestion is to go ahead and download all databases in advance before heading out to observe the night sky.

I must say that I really dislike uncalled updates on my phone specially when they are forced upon you by Play Store; but the creator of this app is restraining the uploads quite well! I think I’ve updated the app itself only twice during these two years of using it.

I am attaching two links on the bottom of my blog post so you can visit and read all the features in detail, but I’ll mention just a few nifty ones that I find very cool.

  • Events – Upcoming astronomical events
  • Sky View – Shows you the current view of the sky based on your location
  • Sky Overview – Shows you the entire sky chart
  • Live View – Point your phone somewhere in the sky and it’ll inform you what you’re looking at
  • Twilight – The dawn, dusk, blue and golden times at your location
  • Eclipses – All about eclipses!!!
  • Moons – Planet moons, their current and upcoming orbits

The app has of course many more features. You can search deep sky and planetary objects, the app will bring you all the information you need in regards to  your location, point out the visible objects for you and give you detailed information on what you’re looking at. You can add objects in your favorites list, you can also browse back and forth in time for an object and also get suggestions on what are the best visible objects for a particular date plus allows you to add calendar reminders when it comes to events.

No need to purchase astronomical calendars or booklets anymore, this app really has it all you need and more for an amateur astronomer. But wait.. Did I mention it also has a night mode view in red light. How cool isn’t that?!

Event Information
Event Information
Jupiter Moons
Jupiter Moons
Planet Orbits
Planet Orbits
Star Chart
Star Chart
Twilight Diagram
Twilight Diagram

Solar Eclipse 2015

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It has been an awfully long time since I had the chance, the energy and the time to enjoy my hobby. The majority of my time I was occupied with my career and my relationship to Melissa. My astronomy friends and I have felt the same the last few months, when it comes to local weather. It makes you feel giving up sometimes and when you loose interest, you get some beautiful days that are ideal and perfect for astrophotography, but you lack the interest because by the time you’ve lost it entirely or you’re busy with other things.

Recently we had nothern lights observations in south sweden after the big geomagnetic storm caused by the solar mass ejection previously. Some of my astronomy club friends succeeded going out to take a few photos of the auroras. Shortly after we had the solar eclipse that appeared in its totality at Svalbard up in nothern Scandinavia (north of Norway and Sweden). We were less fortunate here at Malmö where I live and work. First of all we had heavy clouds being pulled over us and secondly we had to enjoy the spectacle with just a partial eclipse at around 80% coverage.

Despite these setbacks I went out with my friend Arne and took a few images. If you are the lucky owner of a telescope you can still gather enough light to make a pretty decent observation. So we decided to settle outside the parking at my work and was able to show the eclipse to some of my colleagues.

IMG_3764

Below I’m adding a few links in regards to solar eclipse facts and also how it looked like from Svalbard as well.

Niklas Henricson