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Friday, August 24, 2007


Google Sky - The Problem with Planets

Google Sky has a bit of a problem with planetary positions.

Google Earth has been quite useful to the astronomically inclined. You can tour great telescopes, locate known meteor falls, find previously unknown impact craters and set up occultation visibility maps. Now Google Earth has been updated to include sky maps. You can download the new sky-enabled version here, findout out the basics here, and get some cool KML tour files here.

Google Sky won't replace SkyMap, or Sky View Cafe, or any of those specialist sky viwing programs, but as DaveP says, that's not the point.
DaveP very rightly points out that the strength of Google is in mashing together data streams. DaveP goes into some detail on this, so check it out, then start making mash-ups.

Of course, there are bugs. DaveP reports one bug, some layer lables appear in the sky. With him ot was wis picture lables. With me it's the lables from the influenza epidemilogy mash up. Denpasaar floast mysteiously mot far from Ursa Major. This is a relatively minor issue

More serious is the fact that the planets are way out of position. You have to turn on the layers to see the planets in the first place. As you can see from the image above, Mars is well out of position, and Mercury is placed in Gemini, when it should be in Leo! This is because the program seems to default to 21 July when putting up the planets, unless you notice the time slider at the top, and move it to your current date, it will show you the planets as of July.

I'd also like to the stars as seen from the southern hemisphere have a southern hemipshere orientation, but that is a minor issue.

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Ian, I may be wrong but I thought Google Sky had a navigation compass. If it does, I presume you can rotate the sky around to have south pointing upwards.
It does Stuart, but why can't Google Eath detect you are observing from a Southern Hemisphere location and adjust the sky accordingly, rather than southern hemispherians having to drag the compass around while nortrhern hemispherians just hop to it (I know it's very, very trivial, but it is one thing that gets my goat).
Google Earth with Sky feature
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