March 22, 2018

Review: Cosmic Watch

Cosmic Watch screenshot.

To understand the motions of the sky is to understand our place in the Universe. We recently came across a neat new App available for Apple and Google Play named Cosmic Watch, ($4.99 US) which simulates the sky view from a unique perspective.

The App: Cosmic Watch allows you to toggle between the topocentric versus geocentric view, showing the planets, Sun, Moon and constellations in time and space. You can overlay constellations along with the planes of the galaxy, ecliptic and the celestial equator. You can toggle between the astronomical constellation overlay view, astrological zodiac view, and solar system yearly calendar view.

Astrology vs Astronomy

Yup. We said astrology. Cosmic Watch uses the older traditional “12 Houses” of the zodiac approach, not taking into account precession. The modern astronomical constellations (incorporating precession) are included on the astronomical view, a nice touch. There’s no “interpretive astrology” (i.e. “today’s a good day for starting to learn to play the bongos,” etc) just a simple true sky positioning of celestial objects. The astronomical view does, though, list constellations such as “Scorpius” by their astrological names (Scorpio)… hey, modern astronomy shares its hoary roots with the arcane practice of astrology; I meet up with the astrologically-minded at star parties all the time, still curious about the reality of the Universe, not a bad thing

On the “outside in” perspective: Cosmic Watch utilizes a unique view: you’re outside the cosmic sphere, looking down at the Earth in the center. Of course, this is an imaginary apparent view, but handy when you’re trying to find things in the sky. This is also the sort of view that was common on early medieval armillary spheres, and you can see this “outside in” view on early star charts.

Screen capture of the April 8th, 2024 total solar eclipse using Cosmic Watch.

Cosmic Watch may be of limited use in the field, but it is a useful teaching tool and planner.

As a cosmic cartographer and chronicler of all things celestial, we found one feature immediately useful: the Cosmic Watch App allows you to see when the Sun, Moon, constellations and planets reach the zenith, and over what geographic location this occurs. This takes the guess work out of, say, finding the optimal position of a meteor shower over the Earth, something difficult to do with other planetarium programs with their standard “inside looking out” perspective.

Check out Cosmic Watch, for a sky view that’s out of this world.

Astro-Vid Of the Week: Happy 55th, NASA!

Astronaut Chris Cassidy snaps a pic during a recent spacewalk. (Credit: NASA).

‘Tis both the best of times & the worst of times for our noble national space agency. On this day way back in 1958, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) became known as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA. Over the past 55 years, NASA’s list of achievements have included landing men on the Moon, placing a permanent human presence in low Earth orbit, and sending probes to explore every planet from Mercury to Neptune. NASA is also a wonderful public resource, a reference for students of space to mine for a wealth of information about our universe. As a science-writer, I find myself searching NASA daily as a rich resource, all in the public domain. [Read more...]

April 2013: Life in the Astro-Blogosphere: Astronaut or Rockstar?

1st band in space? (Credit: NASA/STS-110).

What did you want to be when you grew up? Of course, this tired old saw of a question assumes that you’re already a mortgage-paying, car-pooling adult who has had those childhood dreams tempered by reality. Hey, we all know that one guy or gal in our home town that got exactly what they wished for. For example, I knew a friend in high school that spent every waking hour drawing, designing and talking about car stereo boxes… and guess what? That’s what he does to this day. (Hopefully, the whole Ipod thing didn’t ruin his grandiose business schemes). [Read more...]

Astro-Event: R Geminorum Rising.

Mira, a prototype variable similar to R Gem as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.

(Credit: NASA/ESA).

Tired of observing M31 for the nth time and ready to do some backyard astrophysics? Eventually, we all go there; you may have even read a recent “how-to” post of our not-so-secret addiction: variable star observing. [Read more...]

19.05.11: “Incoming!” Meteorite Strikes House in Polish Town.

X Marks the Soltmany Fall. (Credit: CIA World Factbook).

Ahhhh… nothing makes the astro-news like a “House-strikes-space rock” story. Amid many dubious claims of low-flying rocks heard over the Chesapeake and striking lawns in New Jersey over the past few weeks, a quiet but amazing story of a meteorite strike came our way from “across the pond…” [Read more...]

17.05.11: A “Cosmic Hand.”

Pulsar PSR B1509-58. (Credit: NASA/Chandra/CXC/SAO/P. Slane et al.)

“Wow…” Of course, this word often applies itself to the jaw-dropping field of astronomy… but the picture above really merits it. The image was snapped by the Chandra X-ray observatory. It displays pulsar PSR B1509-58 within a hand-shaped nebula located about 17,000 light years distant. [Read more...]

26.04.11: New Horizons and the Hunt for KBO’s.

Artist’s Concept of New Horizons at a KBO. (Credit: Dan Durda SwRI/NASA/JPL).

A sky survey has begun this month for a very special mission. In July 2015, NASA’s New Horizons mission will whiz past the Pluto-Charon system on its way out of the solar system. Scientists will collect data on the pair for a frenzied few days…and then what? [Read more...]

27.04.11: MeerKAT & the Bid for SKA.

African radio astronomers are taking an innovative approach to a bid in hosting a unique proposal. The idea is known as the Square Kilometer Array, a radio observatory that will employ hundreds of dishes over a large area to scan and survey the radio sky in unprecedented detail. Much like the Allen Telescope Array being built in California, SKA’s strategy is to use the technique known as radio interferometry and go for many small dishes linked together rather than one large single antenna.

[Read more...]

AstroEvent: The Return of Saturn 2011.

Two of unique planetary events are on our astro-radar this week. The first is an extremely close conjunction between brilliant Venus and faint Neptune on the morning of March 27th. At a mere 9’ minutes separation at 0100 UT, this will be one of the closest planetary conjunctions of the year.

[Read more...]

12.03.11: Attack (on the) Cyanobacteria?

This sunny weekend, we’d like to give some thought to the news story that erupted last weekend. Unless you’ve been off world, you’ve no doubt heard that researcher Richard B. Hoover of NASA’s/Marshall Space Flight Center released a paper via the Journal of Cosmology indicating the possible presence of fossilized cyanobacteria in certain types of carbonaceous meteorites.

[Read more...]

28.02.11: Pan-STARRS Sets a New Record.

While you were sleeping on the night of January 29th, 2011, astronomers both human and cyber atop Haleakala in Hawaii were on patrol. The telescope was the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS), and the quarry was Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs). In one marathon night, astronomers Richard Wainscoat, David Tholen and Marco Micheli of the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy bagged 19 confirmed NEAs, the most discovered in a single run.

[Read more...]

15.02.11: New Views of Comet Tempel 1 Courtesy of StardustNExT.

The re-designated StardustNExT spacecraft performed another first this Valentine’s Day, completing the first ever follow-up encounter of comet Tempel 1.

[Read more...]