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June 29, 2007

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Interactive Astronomy

The centerpiece of this collection of javascript-powered astronomy apps is SkyandTelescope.com’s Almanac. It presents basic astronomical data customized for your location, for any date from A.D. 1600 to 2400. The information available for display includes sunrise and sunset times, morning and evening twilight times, moonrise and moonset times, the Moon’s phase, a list of naked-eye planets visible in the evening and morning skies, rise and set times for each of these objects, and more.

The page provides detailed instructions for using this tool, including how to preset your geographic location. You may have to turn off your popup blocker because the almanac launches in a separate window, which is about a quarter of the size of a full window. (Note that you may also need to fiddle with text size or screen resolution to be able to see everything in the almanac window.) The almanac displays:


*a graphic representation of the Moon’s phase and then reports the Moon’s age (in days since the last new Moon)
*the Julian Day number (for “official” astronomical timekeeping)
*your location (country and nearest large city)
*the current date and time (in Universal Time, which is essentially the same as Greenwich Mean Time)
*your latitude and longitude, time zone, local date and time, and whether daylight-saving time is in effect


Among the other tools here, we especially liked The Phase of the Moon, a utility that shows and tells the moon phase for any date, AD or BC. And there are a variety of other applications that astronomy buffs will enjoy:
+ The Minima of Algol (”The star Algol (β Persei) was the first eclipsing variable star ever discovered, and it’s still the most famous one.”)
+ Transit Times of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot (”Now you can calculate the dates and times (local and Universal Times) when the center of the Great Red Spot should cross Jupiter’s central meridian….”)
+ Chasing the Moons of Jupiter (”With help from our interactive JavaScript utility, you can always tell which of Jupiter’s four largest satellites is which.”)
+ Seeking Saturn’s Moons (”With help from our interactive JavaScript utility, you can always tell which of Saturn’s brightest moons is which.”)
+ The Elusive Moons of Uranus (”Our handy JavaScript utility can help users of moderate to large telescopes find as many as five Uranus’s brightest satellites.”)
+ Mars: Which Side Is Visible? (”To compare what you see on Mars with a map, you need to know which side of the planet you’re looking at. Our handy Mars Profiler tells you that….”
+ The Martian Moons in 2007 and 2008 (”If you’ve never spied Mars’s two satellites, Phobos and Deimos, the end of the year is the best chance you’ll ever get.”)

As long as you’re on the magazine’s website, don’t leave without trying the Interactive Sky Chart, which allows you to build “a custom naked-eye map of the whole sky for any place on Earth, at any time of day or night, on any date from 1600 to 2400.” And there’s even a Mobile Sky Chart (hello, Gary); alas, it’s for Verizon subscribers only.