Saturday, August 25, 2007

Newton Astronomy

Meg and I have spent most of our week days during August doing home repairs on my family's place on Lopez Island. This time I brought along my MessagePad 2100 with a couple of astronomy packages loaded on it.

Sky Guide has the potensial to be a great Newton application if only the stars and constellations were labeled. Sean Luke has a fantastic rant about the perils of closed sourse software in which this program is specifically referenced. However, Sky Guide does provide a good snapshot of what the sky looks like at any given time or location.

StarChart 2.1 is an update of an earlier version of this great astonomic chart package. This application displays stars, constellations, and planets, again based on time and location. You can click on specific stars, planets, or constellations to bring up detailed information of them, including an individualized representation of a constellation, for example. There are also many display settings that allow the user to customize how the data is presented.

Additionally, I have a sky guide that I made in eigth grade astronomy class, fashioned from a manilla folder. I started the low-tech way and gauged the paper sky guide, noting which planets were supposed to be where. The first two nights were too foggy to star gaze, but we lucked out on the third night. Newton in hand, I went outside. Both StarChart and Sky Guide allow the user to orient the display in the direction she or he is standing. I chose Victoria, B.C. as my location, since I can see Victoria from the house on a clear day. The moon was rising to my right, and the Newton's sky guides both confirmed I was pointing in the correct direction and oriented.

The inclusion of the Newton's sky guides improved by sky gazing experience because I was able to identify some of the constellations and planets I saw. Pluto and Neptune were both out. I also saw Casseopia, Pegasus, and Capricorn. It was cool being able to identify what I saw.

It was a little harsh using the Newton's green backlight then trying to readjust my eyes. At one point a band of Newton users commissioned and installed red backlights specifically so they could star gaze with their Newtons.

To finish it all up, I wrote this blog post up in Newton's Notes. I kept StarChart and Sky Guide running at the same time with no problem so I could reference what I saw. I installed nBlog on this MessagePad then posted the entry using the Newton's wifi card. Nerdy!

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