Evaluation

US Prepaid – No contract SIM cards for your European cell phone

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Cell Phone BillDue to solar eclipse event this summer and for those of you who decide to visit US, make sure you look into prepaid – no service SIM cards when you arrive. Unfortunately there’s no guarantee your european cell phone plan will be as cheap as it’s at your home. I’ve experienced personally issues when I was visiting my wife several times in the past. US phone network providers like to charge a little bit extra, causing issues once you get back home to discover a 400 – 700 USD bill at your doorstep.

I will refer to an article from Trip Advisor that explains what your options are,

United States: Mobile Phone Service for visiting the US

And also, The best prepaid and no contract plans in the US (February 2017)

Finally don’t forget to check that your phone is “unlocked”, meaning that it’s not bound to a specific SIM card provider and also what network coverage each US provider offers, depending which place you plan to visit during your vacations. For example here’s the LTE coverage for T-mobile: T-Mobile LTE coverage map

 

 

Niklas Henricson

Solar System Scope, INOVE

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Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-29-24

I wrote on my previous blogpost about the Solar System Scope by INOVE. This time I thought I’d write some extra about it. Beside their awesome interactive website, INOVE has developed their solar system to be accessible from Android devices. If you enter the App Store make a simple search for “Solar System Scope” and you’ll find it available for free.

It is the perfect app to teach yourself and others (your kids, or at the school) about our solar system. These days you can connect a mobile device to your laptop to enable projection on big screens.

Solar System Scope has some basic data about each object that is part of our solar system. From planets to dwarf planets, moons, comets, asteroids, constellations as you browse among many of them enabling you to explore their orbits, behavior and most importantly fast forward or rewind to observe their positions at a certain point in time.

Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-34-41 Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-34-22

Another cool feature is that you can “open up” planets to look at their interior and see what they consist of. Above you have two examples from the planets Saturn and Mars respectively. I believe this app is the coolest so far when it comes to graphics and usability. It is a very user friendly and intuitive app that has a simple design making it possible start using its advanced features within seconds.

Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-29-36 Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-31-10 Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-30-51 Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-31-21 Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-31-48 Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-32-37 Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-33-18 Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-33-51

I really hope INOVE takes this app one step further and offers us to explore other neighbor solar systems that we know off in scientific ways. How cool wouldn’t that be?

Unfortunately this app is only available for Android devices. I was hoping one day they’ll make a release for Windows mobile devices as well.

Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-30-08 Screenshot_2015-05-31-20-30-35

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

Star Trail

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Ben Canales webpage

Astrophotography itself can be divided into subsessions and there fore astrophotographers invest both in time and money in different sets of cameras and other equipment. For example a deep-sky astrophotographer would prefer an IR modified DSLR camera or a CCD camera, while a planetary astrophotographer would prefer video cameras or high quality webcameras. But regardless type of equipment or the money you spend into that, an astrophotographer must have a sense of an artist’s eye, big luck and enormous amount of patience. Surely good and expensive equipment makes life easier, but you are not a true amateur astronomer if you dont love nature and got people around you that support your interest wholeheartedly.

I personally admire Ben Canales work in landscape astrophotography. Ben gave me inspiration through his photos in investing my thoughts into landscape astrophotography and this season I’m going to try out and see if I can find motives. For a couple of months ago, I passed by Lund’s cathedral and watched the moon raising between the two clock towers. It was so beautiful but unfortunately I didn’t carry around my camera at that point. However, I’m planning in doing so by timing it at a later point. Another try I did, was with the dome at the observatory of Jävan and the constellation of Cassiopeia in background, but I was never pleased with the end results.

Regardless, please visit Ben Canales webpage located at: http://www.thestartrail.com/

Observational site for astrophotography

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Krankesjön

Astrophotography requires these days a remote location in order to avoid city lights and other sources of light polution originating from suburbs, traffic, illuminated roads, commersial signs, small villages and so on.

The best way to decide wether or not a location is spared from that, is by checking an overview map focusing on the light polution given by sattelite data. There are numerous of sattelites orbiting earth and one of the most popular websites giving you that opportunity to review your local areas situation is the “Night Sky In The World“.

From where I live, the best closest location spared by light polution are the shores of the lake “Krankesjön” 15-20 minutes from where I live by car. Fortunately the area is a nature reserve and some streets are off limits due to military excersises, limiting the traffic. Besides the closest civilization is made of very small villages at a distance of 10 to 20 km from the lake. Occasionally the military police makes a visit during the astrophotography sessions wondering what business we have in the area. Sometimes they’re interested knowing more about astrophotography but most of the times they check your ID number and move on.

Today I went out by car for the second time to investigate this location and find a better spot from where I could assemble my telescope. During my trip I came across a Danish group of bird viewers and exchanged a few words about their cameras and their telephotography techniques.

By night south part of Sweden is very light poluted due to the geography. Small villages and cities are growing by population every year and the situation gets worse as times passes. A map provided by my astronomy society Aquila (ASAK) shows the whole picture on what magnitude stars you can see by naked eye.

Light Polution of South Sweden

The map was created by Lars Lindh, amateur astronomer and astrophotographer and member of the Aquila astronomical society in Kristianstad. His webpage can be found here.

The link bellow shows the location of lake “Krankesjön”.

http://maps.google.se/maps?hl=sv&ie=UTF8&ll=55.699937,13.481855&spn=0.031874,0.104628&z=14&vpsrc=6&output=embed
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