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Exploring the Alignment of the Planets in the Night Sky

In anticipation of the planets alignment, I went digging for some cool Android apps to see the stars, and some awesome astronomy blogs to keep myself updated. Let’s start with the awesome astronomy bloggers.

Screenshot of Android App Star Chart showing alignment of planets, December 2012

Blogging the Stars

When I think about those blogging the stars, I don’t think Perez Hilton. I think about those truly passionate about what’s “out there.”

I was surprised to find few astronomy and space bloggers yet to cover the alignment of the planets. Possibly they exhausted themselves when the news came out over a year ago about the “end of the world” at the end of December 2012 or I’m just too early to find much on the subject on their blogs. Either way, my search found some fascinating bloggers covering the news from beyond our atmosphere.

Toms Astronomy blog, screen capture of an article on galaxies colliding. Tom’s Astronomy Blog: Tom has been reporting on space for years, giving us insights into the beautiful photographs from NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope. A simple and easy to read blog, it’s all about the content for him, sharing his experience and passion for space with everyone.

The Urban Astronomer: The latest post, Jupiter at Opposition: Closest approach of the Year, covers the alignment of Jupiter, Earth, and the sun, an annual event that brings Jupiter so close to Earth, it becomes the brightest light in the sky. Much of the content is educational, seeking opportunities several times a month to educate readers on some aspect of astronomy and astral events. It’s an easy read for most people as it attempts to simplify the science, making it quite accessible.

Will Gater: Gater is an astronomer and science writer, reporting on the wonders of space in many magazines and publications. On his personal blog, he recently reported “Jupiter and the Moon shine through steady skies,” on the closeness of Jupiter and the annual alignment with Earth and the Sun. The photographs of Jupiter he’s captured are amazing.

Lights in the Dark: Another blog, Jason Major calls his site a photo journal of exploration in our planetary backyard. His commentaries (and imagery) is delightful. He constantly finds fun and new ways to explore space. His post on “Curiosity Has So Many Cool Things to Find,” begins with a parody video on “Dumb Ways to Die” and states: “Water, methane, organic compounds, Twinkies, Amelia Earhart’s plane… there’s just so many cool things for Curiosity to find on Mars!” Great fun amid the technical stuff. His sidebar includes a list of favorite links to some of the best resources on space I’ve found.

Quantum field theory: Nigel Cook came on board about the same time as I did, one of the first bloggers on the free hosted service. I’ve tracked his work, most of which I can’t understand though I try, over the years and he continues to blow my mind. If you want to dive into the deep pit of science and space, go see Nigel. His About Page is one I often use in my classes on how not to write an About Page. 😀

The Jodcast – an astronomy podcast: Exactly what they call it, it is a great podcast covering the latest news, interviews, and stories on astronomy and astronomers. The December 2012 show covers how a scientist weighs galaxies, something I’d not ever considered.

Bad Astronomy on Discovery Magazine and Bad Astronomy on Slate: Slate is the new home for Bad Astronomy with Phil Plait. Plait has been reporting on news and discoveries in space for many years. He worked for 10 years on the Hubble Space Telescope and now is a published author and full-time blogger and writer.

Starts With A Bang: On of many blogs on the Science Blogs network, Ethan’s site is a bad ass collection of science news and research, including some interesting commentary.

Astroblogger's site and article on the planets aligning in the night sky in Australia.Astroblog: Ian Musgrave features extensive articles on what is in the night’s sky this week with links to help you learn even more. His view is from Australia, giving the down under perspective on the night’s sky. His Astroblog: The Sky This Week – Thursday November 29 to Thursday December 6 post features the morning sky from Adelaide featuring Saturn, Venus, and Mercury clearly aligned near the horizon.

The Spacewriter’s Ramblings: Carolyn Collins Petersen calls herself the Spacewriter and covers astronomy and space science. The photographs she unccovers are beautiful, but her opinions and perspectives are refreshing. She is also the host of The Astronomer’s Universe on Astrocast.TV, a web-based multimedia news and educational channel dedicated to the science of astronomy.

Astronomy Cast: They call themselves a podcast that takes a “facts-based journey through the universe.” Their Ep. 278: Animals in Space covered the history of animals being used in space to test theories before humans were launched into space, and animals used in research in space.

Roger Launius’s Blog | Commenting on Spaceflight, History, Religion, Baseball, and Other Assorted Issues: Roger D. Launius works at the Smithsonian in the Space History Division and covers a wide range of topics on his site, many of which include space history and news associated with his work preserving the history of humans in space.

Transterrestrial Musings – Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!: Rand Simberg’s site covers a wide spectrum of science and technology tidbits, but his perspective puts a fascinating twist on the news.

CosmoQuest: It introduces itself as the “place where you map other worlds, explore our universe, and contribute to science.” That’s a perfect description of this multiple author site determined to create a passionate community around astronomy, space, and science.

Space KSC: Stephen C. Smith blogs about the space industry and exploration from the perspective of an enthusiast. He calls himself a “student of space history” and leads tours at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in addition to his day job. His passionate coverage of the news from space often feeds those also lusting to learn more about space.

The Once and Future Moon Blog from the Air and Space Smithsonian: When it comes to the latest on space exploration news and explanations, the Smithsonian has always been a leader and should be included in your space news feeds.

Orbiting Frog: This is Robert Simpson’s Tumblr blog. While it is hard to track what is going on with the Tumblr visual interface, the astrophysicist works at Zooniverse, a world-leading Citizen Science platform, and is active sharing information on the work he does as well as the behind-the-scenes picture of his research as well as images and science news.

I should include the WordPress-driven open.NASA Project called “a collaborative approach to open, direct, and transparent communication about your space agency.” Run on’s VIP plan, the site was featured in a case study recently on the VIP News blog. It features reports on all NASA activities and projects including science hacks, mobile apps, and more. While not a source for NASA and space news, it’s a great look at how NASA is working to get the message out on all their projects.

In April, The NASA International Space Apps Challenge was an internationally coordinated hackathon event that brought together over 2,000 participants of all ages to develop more than 1000 open source projects. It’s this kind of collaboration and outreach that I think will make the difference in getting us into space faster.

There are several good lists of top astronomy blogs. However, these are older and many of the sites listed are inactive, heart-breaking as some of the sites were alive with passionate discussions on astronomy. Still, there are some great resources left to explore.

Android Apps for Watching the Planets Align

It will not matter if there are clouds in the sky on the night that the planets align in the galaxy. I’ll have my trusty Android smart phone and tablet to watch the show.

I have several astronomy apps installed on my phone and tablet. In anticipation of the planet alignment, here is my list of recommendations to help you get your astronomy habit rocking and share in the excitement of the planets aligning. Get ready for a front seat view of this incredible astronomy experience, whether or not the weather cooperates for you.

Personally, I use Star Chart, SkySafari, and Google Sky Map on a regular basis. I use Space Junk Pro and ISS Detector to track the Space Station and satellites.

Be aware that most of these are not small apps. They tend to be large and feature huge graphic files. Most can be installed to the SD card and only a few have Widgets.

In addition to the “live” view as you tilt your phone or tablet towards the sky (or ground), most of these feature the ability to manually position the view. If you have shaky hands or the program responds a little too quickly as you hold the device towards the stars, being able to turn off the live perspective can calm motion-sickness and allow you to control your view and access the features of the program.

Star Chart by Escapist Games Ltd. – This is my favorite. I love the graphics. I adore the visuals and ease of use. The constellations feature well done graphics representing the creatures the stars are named for in Western culture. I can search for stars, customize what sky features I wish to see or not, and get access to more information. I love the flares and rainbow bursts to make it feel like I’m looking through an actual telescope, giving me the most realistic experience when the weather isn’t cooperating.

Screen shot example of Star Chart showing planets aligning for December 2012.

Screenshot of SkySafari showing planets aligning for December 2012.The SkySafari Plus Collection includes three amazing Android (and iPhone) apps for viewing the night sky. The beginning SkySafari app is USD $2.99 and a good introduction to a beautiful interface view of the sky. You can change your view of the sky to make it more realistic, as if you are standing on Angel Island in the middle of the ocean, or atop Snowbird Summit or Trinity Alps. It is highly customizable, and the data, quality, and information gets better with the more expensive versions like SkySafari Plus ($14.99) and SkySafari Pro ($39.99). If you are serious about your stars, SkySafari Pro is worth it. It also comes with a desktop program and the ability to direct and target your telescope.

Google Sky Map by Sky Map Devs – A simple but easy to use star viewing program, it helps with identifying constellations. I love the flexibility and ease to view the stars. It helps you identify the stars, learn constellations, and learn more about some of the stars. It is simple, clean, and easy to use with searching, allowing you to find specific stars in the sky. It isn’t as “pretty” as some of the apps, but I enjoy the simple perspective sometimes. Warning: Droid Sky View by Game Evolution and Exhibit Studios is a clone of Google Sky Map and includes ads.

Google Sky map screenshot.

Star Odyssey – Guide to “brightest” stars in the sky is cool, with some interesting information and data, but not the full visual effect as others.

Hubble Space Center by Atelier – The Hubble Telescope has completely changed our perspective of the world around us, specifically the universe around us. The data returned from Hubble can be overwhelming. I like the Hubble Space Center app as it puts that data into perspective with beautiful images, news, updates, and facts about the telescope. You can even use the images as wallpaper, which I did. 😀 It’s free and worth exploring so you can see how all the planets are lining up across the universe not just in our neighborhood.

Mobile Observatory by KreApp Dev Software – It’s $3.99 and I haven’t played with it on my own phone, just with others. It’s simple and easy to use, turning the sky into a literal observatory, with great information and data about the stars. However, it didn’t feel like it had the richness on the visual scale as some of the others I’ve played with. It’s still worth checking out.

ISS Detector - screen shot tracking International Space Station in the sky.ISS Detector by RunaR – There are several International Space Station trackers and detectors available, but I like ISS Detector. It allows me to plan around watching the ISS fly by. If you haven’t experienced it yet, do it. It is amazing and appears much closer than you would thin. ISS Detector takes weather into account and provides a small icon representing the estimated weather conditions at the time of the fly over. ISS Detector features a notification alert to let you know when it is coming by your area, which I appreciate. If I could just get the clouds to cooperate.

Space Junk Pro by Cass Everitt – Not a fantastic map app of the sky but a great way to identify all those UFOs, or should I say UMOs, Unidentified Moving Objects in the night sky. Space Junk Pro is great for tracking satellites as well as the International Space Station or Hubble Space Telescope to time when these will pass through your area.

Screenshot of Space Junk showing International Space Station and planets.
Some of these are also available in iPhone and for desktop computers.

Have I missed any of your favorites?

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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen.


  1. Posted December 5, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    “I have several astronomy apps installed on my phone and tablet.”

    Oh my, you are making me drool with envy, Lorelle. What a fabulous and comprehensive post on a fascinating subject. I will be reading it in closer detail tomorrow. I may even muscle my man out of his iPad and go star gazing on it. As it’s time for bath and bed now there’s little doubt that I’ll be dreaming about constellations.

  2. Carl Marshall
    Posted December 6, 2012 at 3:16 am | Permalink

    Hi there I have written a small ebook, would it be better to put it on my blor or set up a separate domain for the book

    Carl marshall

  3. Posted December 6, 2012 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Thanks for including me in your blog list!

  4. Posted December 19, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    What a great set of astronomy blog links! I will have to try out a couple of the android apps and see how they are, they certainly look to be fun. I know some guys that would really like reading your stuff so I will definately pass it on!

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