Friday, September 24, 2010

Star Watching / the ultimate astronomical guide

Who ever tried to take pictures of stars ( astronimical night sky photos) knows how difficult this can be.

 Trying to get the moon and other stars or planets on the same image demonstrates the HDR problem to its extremes. The moon on a clear night is magnitudes brighter than anything else on sky.

The following picture shows the night sky Sep. 21st in Central Europe GMT 23h. Jupiter is visible following the near full moon in it´s left side.
Regular Nikon D90 50mm Photo: Moon followed by Jupiter (left side) on Sep. 21st, Central Europe 23h GMT South-East
Without any HDR processing, with a Nikon 28-110mm zoom at 50mm, f6.3, 1/400 sec, 640 ISO it is hardly acceptable (Jupiter is the tiny spot on the left!) - Moon is overexposed with no structures and chances to spot the moons of Jupiter are zero - at least with this low cost lens.

But what was really fun taking this picture is a new tool that renders all previous star charting tools obsolete:
Vitotechnology´s new Starwalk App for iPad is a true brakethrough for the occasional sky watcher, and a required vacation app. (because the night sky in foreign countries/continents can be quite impressive).

The situation of the photo looks like this in Starwalk:

You see that also Uranus is directly next to Jupiter - and as a newbie - if you had any doubts what the bright "star" next to moon was Starwalk teaches you that it is Jupiter both very close to the ecliptic  (dotted) line the virtual path of the sun.
This situation zoomed out looks like this
The horiozon for orientation and zodiac sign overlays provide a new way to watch and understand the sky. Each item is clickable with additiona information - and the whole thing is of course interactive on the 3GS, iphone4 and iPad. You can "point" to sky and the chart adapts accordingly. You have to see this to believe it.
Star Walk Info Screen on Sun/Moon/Primary Planets Rise and Set times - a bit overloaded graphically but very useful for a quick overview.
If not for anything else the Starwalk App makes the iPad a required item on vacations in the mountains, desert or on cruise ship tours.

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