From time to time at star parties, I encountered someone who isn't very impressed with the dim, fuzzy object I'm showing them through my telescope. But once I explain what the object is, how far away it is, and how it connects to our place in the galaxy and the wider universe beyond, it sparks their imagination and they look at it again with renewed interest and appreciation. A new fun and educational app called Our Galaxy will let anyone learn about our place in the cosmos, and feel that sense of wonder.
In addition to the obvious bright planets and stars, the night sky is sprinkled with star clusters, nebulas, and distant galaxies, many of which are revealed by looking through binoculars and backyard telescopes. Astronomers refer to those exotic objects as deep-sky objects. Their positions in the sky aren't completely random. Star clusters and nebulas populate the spiral arms of our home galaxy, the Milky Way with more of them occurring closer to the center of the galaxy and fewer of them appearing along its outer rim. Their locations in the sky allow astronomers to trace out the structure and dimensions of our galaxy, and to determine where new stars are being formed within it.
Related: Stunning photos of our Milky Way Galaxy (gallery)
Planetary nebulas are the corpses of stars not unlike our sun that reached the end of their lives. Those objects can appear anywhere in our sky because our sun sits within a 3-dimensional volume of space; surrounded by stars of all ages. Globular clusters are spherical, densely-packed collections of old stars that orbit our galaxy like bees around a hive so they tend to be found near the band of the Milky Way, but not inside it. Distant galaxies are sprinkled throughout the sky, but they can only be mapped and observed where our own galaxy's gas and dust don't block their distant light.
Bill Tschumy, one of the creators of the popular SkySafari app, has created the perfect tool to understand our place in the Universe. The Our Galaxy app for iOS and MacOS lets users visualize the locations and physical properties of deep-sky objects within and around our galaxy. The app is a relatively small download at less than 60 Mb. Once loaded on your iPhone, it puts a deep sky expert in your pocket and the larger display on an iPad really shows off its wealth of detailed imagery.
The Our Galaxy app can be operated in two modes that are enabled by tapping Galaxy or Sky on the app's toolbar. The toolbar also features icons to open the search menu and Views library, read a page of information about the selected object, toggle red-light night mode, open the app's settings menu and help. Two whimsical spaceship-shaped icons in the toolbar serve as zoom controls one flies you closer, the other flies you out.
Galaxy View presents a 3-dimensional model of our Milky Way's barred spiral form that you can tilt and rotate, and zoom in and out of. A single tap in the Settings Orientation menu lets you select preset orientations, such as an edge-on view and a face-on view. In the Center menu, you can choose to keep our sun in the center, or rotate around the galactic core or around a selected star or deep-sky object. Across the top of the screen are shown your distance from the selected object, and the field of view (FOV) being displayed in light-years.
Sky View draws a rectangular (orthographic) map of the entire sky as viewed from Earth. Sky coordinates in degrees are labelled around the perimeter of the map. The major stars and lines that form the constellations are plotted in white on a black background. The deep-sky objects are overlain using colored symbols. The map can be enlarged and panned around. Tapping a symbol shows its object's name. Plotting one or more categories of deep-sky objects on the map view illustrate how they can be used to define our galaxy's structure, or be completely independent of it all useful information for understanding how galaxies like ours are structured. A single tap switches between sky and galaxy view.
The app is highly configurable. You can decide whether to display labelled names next to the symbols, identify the various spiral arms of the galaxy, and show the Constellation Sectors the portions of the Milky Way that lie in the direction of certain constellations, such as Orion, Gemini or Cygnus.
To clean up the view, simply enter the settings menu and tap the remove options.
The app contains an extensive library of stars and objects. An object can be selected by typing its name or its designation into the search menu or by tapping its symbol on the screen. Multiple deep-sky objects can be displayed at the same time, as I describe below.
The app's powerful search menu allows you to type all or a portion of an object's name or designation, include or exclude object types, and limit the search to specific ranges of magnitude (brightness), distance, age, size and more. You can even search all constellations, or select a single constellation.
The list of results can then be displayed on the map or 3D model. It's especially interesting to see how the stars and deep-sky objects of a single constellation fall at vastly different distances from our sun.
The more you work with the app, the more you will learn about astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology all presented using clear, understandable text and graphics.
The Views library is especially educational for understanding how various classes of objects populate the galaxy. Nine categories are offered: individual stars and OB Associations (hot, bright stars), open and globular clusters, various types of nebulas, galaxies, and our galaxy's structural components. There is also an entry for the list of well-known Messier objects. Each entry has an information icon to summon a description of that object class.
Tapping any category opens a sublist that allows you to select all members of the class, or sub-groups. For example, in the Diffuse Nebulae view, you can treat emission and reflection nebulas as separate groups, or combined, each type color-coded appropriately (with red for light emitted from hydrogen, blue for starlight scattered off dust, and green for both phenomena).
The Visibility menu contains sliders to plot galactic axes and to add wire mesh representations of the galaxy's central bulge, dark matter halo sphere, and more.
For cosmology buffs, the app contains 3D locations for hundreds of galaxies. Selecting the galaxy category and using "Galaxy view" puts you 92 billion light-years away from home. Manipulating the model shows how some galaxies concentrate in groups while others leave empty voids in the visible universe.
The Our Galaxy app will give you a true perspective on our place in space. Bill Tschumy has posted a YouTube video demonstration of the app here. Enjoy exploring the galaxy and, as always, keep looking up!
Chris Vaughan is an astronomy public outreach and education specialist at AstroGeo, a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and an operator of the historic 74-inch (1.88-meter) David Dunlap Observatory telescope. You can reach him via email, and follow him on Twitter @astrogeoguy, as well as on Facebook and Tumblr. Follow SkySafari on Twitter @SkySafariAstro. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.
- Mystery of a massive neutron star merger in Milky Way explained by new astrophysics theory - Firstpost - May 20th, 2020
- UWMadison astrophysicists donate computing resources to aid COVID-19 research | WIPAC - Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center - University of... - May 20th, 2020
- Astronomers discover a massive rotating disk galaxy in the early universe - UC Santa Cruz - May 20th, 2020
- This Bionic Eye Is Better Than a Real One, Scientists Say - Futurism - May 20th, 2020
- Formation of pair of baby planets around their parent star captured in remarkable first - Firstpost - May 20th, 2020
- Biggest influencers in big data in Q1 2020: The top companies and individuals to follow - Verdict - May 20th, 2020
- Embedded in the community: Outstanding physics student is a third-generation ASU student - ASU Now - May 19th, 2020
- Peter Brancazio, Who Explored the Physics of Sports, Dies at 81 - The New York Times - May 19th, 2020
- Scientists have discovered a star that is almost as old as the Universe, is in its last stages of life - Firstpost - May 19th, 2020
- Russian Astrophysicists Trace Neutrinos Mysterious Ghost Particles From Where No One Had Expected - SciTechDaily - May 19th, 2020
- The Weight of the Universe Physicists Challenge the Standard Model of Cosmology - SciTechDaily - May 19th, 2020
- Hot Super-Earth Discovered Orbiting Ancient Star | Astronomy - Sci-News.com - May 19th, 2020
- Exploring Astronomy Club and enduring COVID-19 The Mesa Press - Mesa Press - May 19th, 2020
- Astronomers Find Earth's Closest Black Hole (So Far) - The Wire - May 11th, 2020
- A long-lost type of dark matter may resolve the biggest disagreement in physics - Times Famous - May 11th, 2020
- Student mothers describe increased stressors as COVID-19 mixes home and work - Daily Northwestern - May 11th, 2020
- Search For Intelligent Alien Life: Galaxies That Are More Likely to Harbor Technologically Advanced Civilizations - SciTechDaily - May 11th, 2020
- UWMadison announces its fourth round of cluster hires - University of Wisconsin-Madison - May 11th, 2020
- A mystery solved? Fast Radio Burst detected within Milky Way - News Info Park - May 11th, 2020
- Here's How to Spot the Starlink Satellite Cluster in the Sky This Month - Our Community Now at Maryland - May 11th, 2020
- Astronomers find closest known black hole to Earth, hints of more - KING5.com - May 6th, 2020
- Lessons from above: U of T astronomers help bring the heavens into homes during COVID-19 - News@UofT - May 6th, 2020
- Super Flower Moon 2020: All you need to know about the last super moon of this year - Jagran English - May 6th, 2020
- The Inconstant Universe Weird Findings Point to a New Physics - The Daily Galaxy --Great Discoveries Channel - April 29th, 2020
- Astronomers Have Watched a Nova Go From Start to Finish For The First Time - ScienceAlert - April 29th, 2020
- Experimenting in the Universe's Laboratory - NC State News - April 29th, 2020
- NSF funds RIT researchers to develop code for astrophysics and gravitational wave calculations - RIT University News Services - April 29th, 2020
- The American Academy of Arts and Sciences Inducts 12 Columbia Faculty Members - Columbia University - April 29th, 2020
- WATCH: Eyewitness News talks with NASA astrophysicist about Hubble Space Telescopes 30th Anniversary - Eyewitness News (WEHT/WTVW) - April 29th, 2020
- Hungry galaxies grow fat on the flesh of their neighbours - UNSW Newsroom - April 29th, 2020
- UAH reports record research results of $109.7 million in 2019: NSF survey - UAH News - April 29th, 2020
- The College honors outstanding academic achievement with 2020 Dean's Medals - ASU Now - April 29th, 2020
- Asteroid set to miss Earth, so there's one less worry - ANU College of Science - April 29th, 2020
- HPU Students, Faculty and Staff Recognized for Research and Innovation - High Point University - April 29th, 2020
- Q&A: Putting the Sky in Everyone's Hands - Physics - April 27th, 2020
- Astronomers Watch a Nova Go From Start to Finish for the First Time - Universe Today - April 27th, 2020
- A Star is Orbiting the Milky Way's Black Hole and Moving Exactly How Einstein Predicted it Should - Universe Today - April 27th, 2020
- New Theory and Space X-Rays - What Does It Entail? - Communal News - April 27th, 2020
- The silliest string-theory alternative yet draws inspiration from video games - The Next Web - April 27th, 2020
- This planetary system's perfect rhythm tells us a lot about how it came to be - The Next Web - April 27th, 2020
- Astronomers Find a Six-Planet System Which Orbit in Lockstep With Each Other - Universe Today - April 27th, 2020
- 5 things to know about Colts new RB Jonathan Taylor - Colts Wire - April 27th, 2020
- This planet is so scorching that metals actually vaporize into the atmosphere - SYFY WIRE - April 27th, 2020
- Infinite Visions Were Hiding in the First Black Hole Images Rings - The New York Times - March 31st, 2020
- How Researchers Produce Sharp Images of a Black Hole - Universe Today - March 31st, 2020
- New mission would provide a road map in the search for alien atmospheres - CU Boulder Today - March 31st, 2020
- Pollution down, sky clearer: Amateur astronomers have a good time - Hindustan Times - March 31st, 2020
- April's full moon is a supermoon, and rises on the 7th - Brainerd Dispatch - March 31st, 2020
- Mystery of Supermassive Black Holes Shortly After the Big Bang Explanation Discovered - SciTechDaily - March 31st, 2020
- Educational Shows For Kids to Stream From Home - Den of Geek UK - March 31st, 2020
- Universities Space Research Association's Adam Goldstein Named Co-Investigator on NASA's Recently Elected Proposed Mission on LargE Area burst... - March 26th, 2020
- The Mystery of Supermassive Black Hole Formation - AZoQuantum - March 26th, 2020
- The true impact of SpaceXs Starlink constellation on astronomy is coming into focus - The Verge - March 26th, 2020
- An Interview With Matthew Mercer About The Explorers Guide To Wildemount - Forbes - March 26th, 2020
- Scientists Made an Explanation of Why Time Cannot Be Reversed - Somag News - March 26th, 2020
- Birmingham scientist recognised with international physics prize - University of Birmingham - March 16th, 2020
- 'Minor planet' bonanza: 139 new objects discovered beyond Neptune - Space.com - March 16th, 2020
- Here's how a massive new telescope will revolutionize our view of the sun - Space.com - March 16th, 2020
- The universe may have been filled with supermassive black holes at the dawn of time - Livescience.com - March 16th, 2020
- This astrophysicist could become the first non-binary person to lead a major political party in Canada - PinkNews - March 16th, 2020
- We're not saying flee this doomed Earth... but 139 minor planets were spotted at the outer reaches of our Solar System. Just an FYI, that's all - The... - March 16th, 2020
- Data Science, AI, and Space Are All Connected for New AAS Fellow Kirk Borne - CSRwire.com - March 16th, 2020
- Hear From Immigrants and Refugees in Their Own Words - The Nation - March 16th, 2020
- Big telescopes join hunt for things that go flash in the night - Science Magazine - February 12th, 2020
- Black holes echoing through spacetime could be telling us they arent what we think they are - SYFY WIRE - February 12th, 2020
- As era of commercial spaceflight dawns, U of T alumna seeks to deliver health care among the stars - News@UofT - February 12th, 2020
- Why the suns mysteries could soon be revealed - Christian Science Monitor - February 12th, 2020
- Breaking the glass ceiling: When it comes to science, Polish women are on the up - The First News - February 12th, 2020
- Elon University's new 10-year plan includes an innovation quad, new nursing programs and lots more dorm rooms - Greensboro News & Record - February 12th, 2020
- Supercharged Light Pulverizes Asteroids Cascade of Destruction - SciTechDaily - February 12th, 2020
- Features | Things I Have Learned | Six Organs Of Admittance's Ben Chasny On Stargazing - The Quietus - February 12th, 2020
- Polar Express: New Spacecraft Will Explore Elusive Parts Of The Sun - OPB News - February 12th, 2020
- This Is Wild: Astrophysicists Can See Stars Twisting Space and Time - Popular Mechanics - February 1st, 2020
- An astrophysicist honors citizen scientists in the age of big data - Science News - February 1st, 2020
- Department of Energy to use IU's Big Red 200 supercomputer; Purdue University Fort Wayne offering astronomy concentration - FW Business - February 1st, 2020
- Figuring out what the Milky Way looks like is akin to a murder mystery - New Scientist - February 1st, 2020
- Black holes caught in the act of swallowing stars - Science Magazine - February 1st, 2020
- Spacing Out: How AI Provides Astronomers with Insights of Galactic Proportions - IT News Online - February 1st, 2020
- I'd like to boldly go where everyone ought to be headed by now, by Susie Reing - The Keene Sentinel - February 1st, 2020
- Is there a 2nd planet orbiting Proxima Centauri? - EarthSky - February 1st, 2020