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    Re: Learn the stars, by phone
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2009 May 14, 06:27 -0700

    George,
    
    Sorry I didn't include any links previously.
    
    First of all, here's a nice article describing the technology of the Celestron Skyscout:
    http://www.eetimes.com/news/latest/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=198700125
    (be sure to continue to the second page of the article).
    
    This is the "niche market" astronomy toy that I was talking about. And here's 
    the main Celestron page for the product:
    http://www.celestron.com/skyscout/
    This thing does just what it says. You take it out of the box, put in the AA 
    batteries, turn it on, point it at a star, and it tells you just what you're 
    looking at. It requires only a few seconds of automatic initialization. 
    There's no user alignment process.
    
    The Skyscout appeared on the market two or three years ago. It's fairly 
    expensive, and it can't even make phone calls. :-) As you can see from the 
    EEtimes article above, it includes a GPS chipset, two magnetic chipsets, and 
    accelerometer chipsets. With the output from those, it can determine where 
    you're pointing in the sky from anywhere on Earth at any date and time 
    (probably limited to a few decades out for planet positions) with an accuracy 
    of about 0.5 degrees. Clearly, as you suggested, if there's significant 
    magnetic or acceleration interference (you wouldn't want to use it inside an 
    iron carousel), then it would have problems. But I've seen a Skyscout in 
    operation and tried it myself. It's not bothered by minor magnetic 
    interference and its own batteries are obviously a significant source of 
    magnetic field which apparently cause no problems. How? I don't know. But I'm 
    more interested in the educational aspects of this than its technology (which 
    is OT in any case).
    
    This technology, patented by Celestron (will other companies have to license 
    it?) is about to become much more widespread. It can be squeezed into modern 
    smart phones without too much trouble. Many phones, including the iPhone, 
    already include accelerometers (for games and phone functions -e.g. in one 
    phone, if the phone is placed face-down in a call, the caller is put on 
    hold). Many phones have standard GPS now. A few days ago, I had the 
    experience of parking at a local store and I glanced down at the GPS display 
    on my phone. I was running Google Maps so it was showing me a satellite view 
    of the parking lot with a little dot marking my position. I laughed because 
    it showed me in the third parking spot when I had parked in the second. Then 
    I stepped out of the car, looked again, and realized that the phone knew 
    where I was better than I did.
    
    The evidence for this magnetic compass technology in the next iPhone release 
    appeared over the past few months. From the CNET article:
    "Rumors first floated a month ago that there would be a magnetometer built in 
    to the next version of the iPhone. Now there appear to be corroborating 
    screenshots, which BoyGeniusReport has obtained. The images show a debugging 
    menu with the option to "show in compass," that is purportedly going to show 
    up when the upgraded iPhone debuts. 
    
    One of the interesting things you can do with a digital compass is introduce 
    augmented reality-type applications, as MacRumors suggests. Mobile augmented 
    reality can use a phone's camera and compass to let a device capture an image 
    of a location, like San Francisco's Union Square, for example. Information 
    from the compass would allow names of locations to pop up on top of the 
    image. 
    
    While this would be new for the iPhone and for Apple, others (like Nokia) have 
    been working on this exact type of mobile application for several years. HP 
    Labs has also looked at the usefulness of mobile augmented reality. 
    
    A digital compass also allows for the iPhone to catch up to the G1's 
    capability of doing Google Maps in "compass mode." In the Street View mode, 
    as you move the phone around, so does the view of the map."
    (that's most of the text --the original web page loads very slowly)
    
    So again, consider the implications for celestial navigation education. Within 
    a short period of time, we can expect a significantly larger number of people 
    to come to the table with some good star identification skills in hand. It's 
    just a matter of time... 
    
    -FER
    
    
    
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