The "Christmas" Star
Earlier this month, the planets Jupiter and Saturn had been drawing closer to each other in the sky, and last December 21, the two planets aligned to appear only a tenth of a degree apart! Happening close to Christmas, the occurrence was popularly referred to as the "Christmas" Star.
According to NASA, this spectacle otherwise known as the "Great" Conjunction, is so rare since it has been 400 years since the two planets passed this close to each other in the sky and 800 years since it occurred at night. You can read more about it here:
Of course, we were not to miss this rare sky spectacle. Our homeschoolers headed outdoors about an hour after the sunset and checked out the sky. The two giant planets were actually visible to the naked eye, albeit "stars" only to our inexpert perspective.
Then I remembered another article I came across, actually discussing where we can actually view the Milky Way. It briefly mentioned the SkyView App, as a tool that could help identify stars, constellations, and planets in the sky. I downloaded the app and so the fun begins!
Alas, the tiny speck in the sky now became more exciting to view. The kids were finally able to co-relate the "bright stars" to Jupiter and Saturn.
We live in the city hence there are very few visible stars. The app suggested the relative positions of different constellations and planets, the moon, and even satellites!
The app gives the general direction of the heavenly bodies no matter what time of day. It also gives a brief description of the object currently in focus.
So now we know that the "red star" near the moon is not actually a star, but the planet Mars! Really cool!
The app is very easy to use - just download, calibrate (do a couple of figure-8's with your phone) and enjoy star-(and planets) gazing.
It shows the horizon (the red line on the picture below) and the direction (N, NE, E, SE, S, SW, W, NW) where you are pointing your camera.
The picture below was taken at the SE direction a few minutes after sunset. You will find Jupiter and Saturn on top, above the horizon, while below the horizon are the planet Mercury next to the sun, planet Venus which you will see at the bottom part of the picture. Somewhere in the middle should be the Milky Way.
I was at the roadside when I took this snapshot. It would be really awesome if you were in a vast open space!
Sharing with you here a short clip of the video I took while we were enjoying our AR star-gazing.
Quick Review of the Skyview Lite App
It is very straight-forward - all you have to do is point your phone camera to the sky and it will tell you what celestial bodies are there. More information can be found about the object as you click the "!" button.
If you have any particular celestial body in mind that you want to locate, there is also a "search" function.
Once you click on the object you would like to find, the navigation arrow will point in its direction and you can start exploring as you would when using GPS while driving but instead, this one is pointed towards the sky or below (if it is below the horizon).
When exploring outside, I find the AR view more useful and more realistic. But for times when you perhaps don't have the best view or when there are lots of objects blocking the view, you can try turning the AR camera off to get a black background and Milky Way background (right photo below).
Below at the left, are the default display settings.
I also love the "object trajectories" option which shows where the selected object will move across the sky through time. The photo above (right) shows the trajectory of the planet Venus as of 9:37PM (GMT+4), December 28, 2020. The dotted line is the direction it is yet to take.
The ISS (International Space Station) was also captured on the photo above but when I went back to the app 20 minutes later, it is already gone from that view and has moved towards the southwest direction.
This app is the first "space exploration" app that we have used and we are happy with it so far. The kids use it even during daytime. It makes studying the stars and planets more exciting, not to mention we do not need high-powered telescopes and cameras to view these celestial bodies. We're glad to have found it. Hopefully, we can use it while stargazing at a campsite soon!
We hope we were able to share something cool and useful with you our fellow homeschoolers. Please do share if you have used this app or something similar before, or if you decide to try it, what you think of it!
Until the next! <3