Astronomy

Cosmic Watch – App of the Year

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Screenshot_20171109-184948There are many apps that went through my download lists over the years, but none that have drawn my full attention so far. When it comes to astronomy apps available around for Android, iOS and Windows, there’s a huge variety in the app stores (I’ve mentioned a few in the past). As matter of fact I’ve had many thoughts on building my very own to use out in the field in order to help find my favorite objects, guide my telescope, create log book entries, search in databases, etc. But nevertheless there has never been enough time to build something worth keeping a long time. Before you know it you either loose your phone, get a new one and loose whatever these apps have stored locally in their internal databases on the phone.

One day as I was browsing my emails doing my weekly clean up, I came across an email with subject “SWISS Made Cosmic Watch For Astronomy in 3D”. In the beginning I thought it was one of these ads I receive letting me know of what cool gadgets I can buy. Ads that normally find me through diverted AI search bots checking at my age, my interests, location and places I’ve visited on internet. Interestingly though, Google didn’t toss that particular e-mail in my spam folder and so I opened it up.

The very first sentence made me understand it wasn’t one of the regular salesmen or spam bots that greeted me, but instead a person who was impressed by my blog. I kept reading and he asked me to evaluate his app.

For starters I didn’t expect much until he gave me a redeem code to download his app for free. The download finished just before I had to leave for work and I didn’t have much time to look at it before it was lunch time. Needless to say my jaw almost dropped once I switched it on.
In all honesty I never seen such advanced graphics and such an awesome implementation of a mobile device app before. And mind you, I’ve worked as a software engineer for almost 20 years now.

Among the many features available, the ones I got mostly impressed about were the ability to see the planet positions over time both in the future but also in the past. You could look at the planet position on the day of your birth, or other historical events down to the seconds level.

The modes available can display the position of constellations in night sky at certain point of time or real time in the day, make you zoom into features on earth’s surface and add favorites to re-visit something.

Well done Cosmic Watch and big thanks for letting astronomy fans access such great work!

This app exists for both Android and iOS devices

Cosmic Watch is developed by Celestial Dynamics Ltd.

Niklas Henricson
Sacramento, California

14th of November – Super Moon

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The 14th of November this year the moon’s perigee position and phase (full moon) will offer all the observers a spectacular show. It will appear the biggest in 70 years. So to all my California friends, go up this early morning around 5 AM and take photos. I will try and see if I can find a nice recognizable monument in Sacramento (maybe the tower bridge).
The moon will be already descending towards the West and its declination or angle close to the horizon will cause the moon to appear larger than its actual size. It is actually worthy witnessing this beautiful event, as it will not happen again for another 70 years. There is however one more chance during next full moon in December (12/13/2016) if you happen to miss it. In December you’ll have to look out even for the Geminids Meteor showers, however do not make many hopes as the full moon brightness will make it harder discovering them.

In order to take a nice photo of this event you’ll need to stand far away from an object/monument or building of your choice and use a telescope or a telephoto lens that will magnify enough the size of the moon while keeping your object in focus.

While moving away from that object will reduce its size due to the distance from it, use your telephoto lens to magnify it. That is how you accomplish these images like in the example below (a large moon and a recognizable building/object next or right in front of it).

Unfortunately cell phone cameras will not be able to take any good images as these get worse by using zooming/image enlargement and also over exposed (bright sphere with unrecognizable features). Unless of course you are able to control shutter speeds and ISO values (such as in some Microsoft/Windows phones). For this image you’ll need a tripod and a DSRL/SRL camera with telescope lens to accommodate your needs properly.

Links:

Click on the mosaic below for larger images:

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Moon’s position in Sacramento, CA area the early morning of 11/14/2016
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Standing too close to the building will allow you large objects on the ground and the moon to appear tiny
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Image from National Geographic used as an example. By positioning yourself far away with a telescope or telephoto lens it’ll make objects and the moon larger put together side by side

 

Moon in conjunction with Jupiter

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So I’m soon done with the visa process while enjoying a wonderful summer in Sacramento, CA with Melissa, little Vanita and waiting soon for our daughter to be born. Right now life is good. We’re starting anew, with exciting opportunities in all areas of life.

While Melissa was enjoying a movie at the theater with her friends, I managed to assemble together my camera and lenses to go out and shoot a few pictures on the moon. I really love the crescent moon as the shadows illuminate the crates in higher contrast then a full moon does.

Here are the results

Niklas Henricson

Solar System Scope, INOVE

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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

Venus Transit 2012

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Planning on the Venus transit was a major disappointment when we weren’t sure if it was either or a go or not.
The initial weather forecasts and satellite images showed increasingly chances of precipitation and thick coverage of clouds.
Thus, we didn’t have any expectations and didn’t get overly overexcited just yet. We simply didn’t hope in anything at all.

Venus Transit by Niklas Henricson
Venus Transit by Niklas Henricson

Arne and Rolf dropped by my house and worked together mounting new solar filters to our telescopes. We used Müllar-filter, which blocks visual light to a very high extend. Once we left my place around 3:30 AM we had a 1½ hour by car to northern part of Skåne where we would meet the rest of the Aquila Astronomy club members. Once we arrived approximately at 5:00 AM, the sun raised since long time ago and the transit was already on-going. We rushed quickly out of the car, equipped with just with my Megrez 72, my Canon EOS 50D DSLR camera and an ordinary tripod. Everything was installed quickly away from the crowd that was looking fascinated by the spectacle through their own telescopes.

There was no rain and the sun was heating our faces. It was truly beautiful with just a few small clouds positioned very low along the horizon but yet close by the sunrise, but for the most part, it was a clear light blue sky with a barely noticeable light breeze from the sea.

As I looked through my ocular I was amazed to see Venus devotedly followed her orbit around of our beautiful star. I was captured by an amazing and indescribable feeling of fascination and excitement. You could really sense the slow motion of the planet, moving quietly across the sun disc like a faithful partner around it’s bright majestic star.

This was one of my best observations so far. I need to top that by observing a total solar eclipse in the future!

The sun today

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Sunspots – Visible Light Filter

As we finally enter September month followed by darker and still warm nights, I decided to assemble my telescope during a semi-cloudy day and take a few shots of the sun. To my surprise the surface was covered with several sunspots, more than it has been in a long time.

The image to the left was taken with my Canon EOS 50D at ISO600, shutter speed 1/8000 and a temperature balance 7000K. The sunspots visible here are 1281, 1282, 1283, 1277 and 1279.

The 17th of September we will have our annual celebration of “Kulturnatten” (culture night), which means many institutions at Lund’s university will have open house from morning to night. The physics and astronomy department will offer laser shows, barbecue,  exhibitions of light and other experiments, star gazing through telescopes and much more. Everyone is welcome to visit us, regardless of age and of course both food and drink and everything else is for free!

 

More information about the cultural night in Lund, can be found here:

Summer, vacations and observatories

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Niklas Henricson
Niklas Henricson

I thought I’d write something regarding my summer activities. Amateur astronomy is very quiet during the summer season due to the light skye for the most part, the quick changing weather circumstances from day to day, but also because for a common Swede the summer season is dedicated for the anual vacations from work and studies. My family and I decided to visit Scotland this year, which was very beautiful. We decided to visit the major cities such as Glasgow and Edinburg, but also the country side of Scotland, such as lakes (Loch Lomond, Loch Drunkie) and parts of the Scotish Highlands. Scotland got rich scientific and engineering history. One interesting story is that of Scotsman James Watt (known from the unit Watt written on every light bulb you buy at stores). Watt was a poor engineer fighting with his economy issues most part of his life. He owned a little store selling his navigational instruments in Glasgow, but barely made any money that suffice for his family living at the time. Years passed and James suceeded getting an employment at the university of Glasgow, enabling him to access the university workshop.

Just as other innovators, James did what most people did not. He had passion in details and improvement. He analyzed the classical steam engine and found some basic flaws and weaknesses in the current system. At the time steam engines were very small and used for the most part in the Scotish country side, helping miners to pump out water from the coil mines.

James found out that Newcomen’s model of steam engine had very low efficiency. After some long nights and big efforts James finally found a way to improve the steam engine and win a high degree of efficiency at low cost. To make a long story short, his solution revolutionized and changed the world. His ingenious methods and solution to the steam engine was a major turning point in history changing the way of living. It is what we call today as the industrial revolution.

His steam engine was used hence in the railways bringing people and wares closer to each other, as well as commersial and the military fleets across the world. Brittain was back then the biggest empire in the world. The sun was always up shinning somewhere in the Brittish empire on the earth.

James Watt statue, Glasgow
James Watt statue, Glasgow

Thanks to James Watt’s efforts, we use today a unit called “Watt” in the S.I. system to honor his name. The unit Watt tells us what amount of efficiency (work) we get during a certain amount of time. Before that, it was common to use horsepowers (hp) but horsepower was a smaller unit in order to express efficiency large machines.

1 W = 0,0013596216 hp or vice versa 1 hp = 735,49875 W. That is why car salemen are using still horsepowers to impress potential buyers, instead of using Watt… People are more impressed when they hear thousents of horsepowers efficiency on the engines, rather then a few tens.

Regardless in daily life we’re using Watt in light bulbs.

Now the question is what does Watt mean for astronomy?

Astronomers are using mostly Watt to express the electromagnetic radiation efficiency on certain amount of area. Watt/square meter (W/m²).

Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to visit the Royal Observatory of Edinburg, but I will try and write about the local observatories of Skåne were I live and see if I ever fufill my dream visiting other famous observatories across Europe.

On my next article I will write about the forgotten observatory of Jävan, located in Genarp, not very far away from where I live.

Square Kilometer Array (SKA)

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Square Kilometer Array

One of the most prestigious projects is about to take place in south Africa called the SKA (Square Kilometer Array). SKA is a group of smaller parabolic antennas which together combined will create a huge telescope array that is 3000 km in diameter and will occupy 12.5 million hectars.

The sensitivity of this array of telescopes will exceed 50-100 the sensitivity of current radio telescopes around the globe. The building project itself it about to cost 1.5 billion euros (1.5 followed by 9 zeros €)!

This is a major breakthrough for astronomy. Astronomers will have now a big advantage in order to uncover the secrets from the big bang aftermath shortly after it took place.

The SKA is about to be operable in year 2025. Let us cross our fingers and wish all involved project members congratulations for this opportunity and good luck during the assembling period.

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