Google Sky Map: The Palmtop Galaxy

The sky and the stars that twinkle remain a constant source of fun for people of all ages. Despite being a lazy pastime, stargazing is a great hobby that serves as food for thought. Spotting stars, planets, and constellations is no easy business. You might have to brush up on basic astronomy — and to tell the truth, reading about the stars isn’t half as fun as watching them.

Google does a splendid job charting out the terrain of Earth with its Maps and Earth apps. To help star gazers and to educate people venturing into that domain, there is Google Sky Map. Is it really simple to use and understand? Let’s go check out!

Overview

Simply put, Google Sky Map turns your Android device into a window on the night sky. And it isn’t too hard to put to use either. Point your phone at the sky and Google Sky Map will show the stars, planets, constellations, and more to help you identify the celestial objects in view, using a form of augmented reality.

It’s a free app that runs on devices with Android version 1.5 and up. The app uses the built-in compass, GP, and clock to display an annotated Sky Map of the area it is facing. If you are using an Android device without a compass, then the app will still work in manual mode.

Ease of Use

Immediately upon launch, the app sets itself into automatic mode and displays all the celestial items in the sky. When I say all celestial items, I mean all of them: stars, constellations, planets etc. It goes without saying that the app re-orients itself as you wander around the location.

As you start moving towards certain spot under the sky to know what you are looking at, the app positions itself immediately to show the names of the elements. If there is a pattern or a constellation, it is displayed as well. The information shown by the app based on my movements were largely accurate. You can also browse the skies manually, if you want to seek something in particular.

Depth of Information

Another thoughtful addition is the color codes. Each category of celestial items have their own color code so that beginners can distinguish between a star and a planet (trust me, lot of people might not know the difference without color codes). The most common thing people try to spot in a sky is the zodiac signs. All 12 signs are clearly drawn out and the next time you are on a date, it should be so easy to draw a star with your fingers pointed towards the sky!

Sky Map & Night Mode

Sky Map & Night Mode

As usual, you can use your fingers or the onscreen controls to zoom in and out. If you are new to this star gazing thing, you might find zooming in to be a bit disorienting! For those who don’t want to be distracted by the various colors of the displayed objects, there is the night mode. Once you toggle to the night mode, all objects and their names are displayed in a single, bright color without distinguishing them based on their category.

Filters

There are countless items in the sky and the app displays all of them on the screen. At times, this could be overwhelming. To avoid confusion, swipe to the left of the screen to bring the filter options. There are six different filters in all: Stars, Planets, Constellations, Messier Objects, Horizon and RA/Dec Grid.

Filters

Filters

Absence of descriptions as to what each filter is for makes things a bit messy. If you head over to the Settings screen, you can pick and choose which category of celestial elements to be displayed or not. However, on screen descriptions would make a great addition for those trying to learn things by trial and error.

Search

Couldn’t find the object you are looking for even with so many filters? Turn to the Search option. If there is one thing that Google does best, it would be search. Searching for an object in the sky is as easy and accurate as a Google web search.

Searching for a Constellation

Searching for a Constellation

I tried to locate my star sign (it’s Leo, fair ladies) to no avail. So I searched for it and Google displayed an arrow on screen towards that constellation. All I had to do was to point my phone towards the arrow and bingo, there was my star sign!

Final Thoughts

Google Sky Map is mind blowing. I forgot everything about the galaxy and the universe as soon as my school exams were over and it was a refreshing experience learning about them again. Google has succeeded in making the app so user friendly that any novice (like myself) can start using the app right away and spot the stars and planets thronging the night sky.

The app serves the cause of experienced star gazers too. They can use the app to confirm the elements of the galaxy they have spotted on their own. Features like the night mode and filters to remove specific group of celestial elements make the app more appealing.

Unfortunately, I found the app to be a bit sluggish at times and the launch speed isn’t so great either. Also, it would have been great to have some sort of description attached to each constellation, planet or star. If you are looking for an awesome and useful way to spend your night life, be sure to check out Google Sky Map ASAP!


Summary

Point your phone at the sky, and Google Sky Map will show the stars, planets, constellations, and more to help you identify the celestial objects in view.

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