The launch of Google Sky has already prompted much discussion. Wiser heads have correctly understood that this is much more than a planetarium-style program.
It may soon, for example, become a standard for professional scientists to present celestial locations related to their research. Meanwhile, humble amateur groups could develop layers to display their observing targets with links to their own photos or sketches.
It will take bigger brains than my own to develop such applications, and the discussions have already begun. A couple of possibilities did come to mind today however as I was soaping myself down in the shower (too much information).
One rather trivial notion was to wonder whether some of the outfits operating “name a star” scams might find a way to show their unfortunate and gullible customers where their celestial unreal estate can be found. (As has been noted elsewhere, it is surprising to find even scientific institutions falling for the patter of the snake-oil salesmen).
The second idea that occurred to me as a fun way to promote interest in the stars was to encourage people to find their “birth stars” in the heavens. Don’t worry, I haven’t gone astrological. I’m referring to a rather fun project that the Joint Astronomy Centre on Hawaii set up to help you find the star whose light that we see today left it when you were born. (Note added in 2016: This site no longer exists, but an alternative now can be found here. Note that the birth date has to be entered in the format DD/MM/YYYY if you enter via the British flag).
I checked mine today and found that the best-fit star is currently 39 Tau, a star that is theoretically just visible to the unaided eye in clear, dark skies, and which lies not far from the open cluster that dare not speak its name. (You can work out my age for yourself).
I manaaged to view it on Google Sky quite easily by doing a manual search for 39 Tau, then zooming in (see picture), but perhaps the JAC people might think of developing a clickable link from their site to do the same thing.
I have to confess that I don’t know offhand how accurate these distance determinations are – perhaps the e-Astronomer will be along soon to tell us (when Andy has finished trying to upset the French and playing the Phantom of the Opera, that is).
• Skymania welcomes your comments on our stories! For more space reading, check out the Skymania stores in the USA, the UK, Canada and France. They are powered by Amazon so you can buy with confidence.