Sky Map for Android - A Mobile Planetarium

Tuesday, May 12, 2009 | 11:34 AM

I originally heard about Android on my first day at Google. A colleague and I were excited about all of the features that would be present in the platform, such as the GPS, compass, and motion sensors. As astronomy buffs, we talked about how cool it would be to use these features in a mobile application that would correctly display the sky based on your location and the direction you're facing.

Fast forward 12 months. We produced a "prototype" of the mapping application consisting of a phone, a compass, a level, and a map, and then convinced several others to join the project. Now that there was some excitement around the project, the real development could begin.


We were able to play around with a T-Mobile G1 test device in the office and were intrigued by all of the sensors that were available. The GPS and clock allowed us to generate maps for the exact time and location, but the compass and accelerometer were what made Sky Map truly interesting. Using these two sensors, the app can determine the exact direction that your phone is facing and display the stars that are visible. If you want to identify that bright star in the west, all you have to do is point the device in that direction and you'll see "Venus" appear on your screen.


Because we do work for Google, it was perfectly natural for us to add a search feature. We decided to use the location features in the Android platform to implement search in an easy-to-use way. You enter the name of an object of interest, like Saturn, and the phone displays an arrow pointing to the object. As you get closer, the color of the arrow goes from blue to red and the app circles the object when you find it. Voila!


This month is a great opportunity to do some planetary observing -- spot the elusive Mercury in the evening, see Jupiter and Neptune in same binocular field, or view Venus shining in the morning skies. Sky Map was designed to help you navigate the night sky, making months like this particularly exciting! Since 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy, there will be plenty of opportunity to show off the application to your friends.

Download Sky Map from the Android Market, and let us know what you think. We'd love to hear from you, both the good and the bad. You can leave comments here or in the Help Forum. 

Update: We have updated the version of Sky Map for Android in Android Market. We realize that some users were experiencing crashes or slow start-up times. This new version fixes these issues, so Sky Map should now work fine on all Android-powered phones. (May 13, 2009 10:10 pm PDT)

Kevin Serafini, Orbiting Software Engineer

33 comments:

mariohyeah said...

great!! i cant wait to go to the country...

but... it crashed 2 times to me.. how can i report bugs?

ChaoticMind said...

I really want an android phone after this...

Gregory Vedders said...

Though the early prototype was pretty cool, I think the final version for Android might be just a bit more practical.

Ben L. said...

This is really cool, I wish I could have it for my iPhone. Hopefully your team will consider making an app for the iPhone after the iPhone OS 3.0 release which will allow developers to access hardware accessories. I know it is unlikely that Google would actually produce an electronic compass accessory, but if someone else does then you should consider making this app available to iPhone users.

Shtirlizzz said...

The real good thing will be if you bring this app to all platforms(Symbian, iPhone,Windows Mobile) and make great one site for astronomy project and related

Nooruddin said...

yeah, it crashed on my twice already...I just installed it and try to launch it and the phone reboots or I get a force close???

loya said...

So the camera is not used. I still not sure how this application could pipoint a star.

Nooruddin said...

No, the camera is not used..it uses the GPS to find your location and goes into its DB to find out which start is where at that time from that location and shows to the user on a map of starts. We already know the movement of the stars and other objects in the sky. We (amateurs) do not where where they will be when we want to see then in the night sky.
BTW, the program takes a long time to load so you have to be patient until it launches.

Revtim said...

I just downloaded it, and it force closes on me a few moments after I see the initial screen. This happen with anybody else?

Nooruddin said...

yeah...it happen to me and I had to set my screen to never time out in setting and then launch it and just leave it alone for about 30 seconds. It does launch, the developers are aware of this problem and they are working on an update to fix this issue.

Revtim said...

Thanks Nooruddin, but I tried setting the screen to never time out but it still force closes.

Thanks for the suggestion though, I bet that will fix it for other people.

Wade-0 said...

The screen never changes once it comes up. I can turn the phone around 360 degrees, upside down, nothing changes. I search for anything and it just says "You found: Moon" and it shows in the center of the screen like I was already facing it, even though its actually behind me. What am I doing wrong?

redsolo said...

Is it possible to interact with the Sky Map using intents or activities?

Ulrich said...

Although the application is pretty cool, it should have been finished before going live. Things like ANR at startup, switching orientation although its completely unnecessary and the very long startup with a black screen just have to be fixed.

nemo2e4 said...

Screen update is much faster than the beta, but it's much more flickery as a result, especially the text. Double buffering required.

Also it doesn't sit nicely with automatic orientation detection - turn the phone clockwise and the display rotates in real time, turn it anticlockwise and it fades out and reappears later thanks to the auto-orientation change.

Kevin Serafini said...

Hi. I'm one of the developers of Google Sky Map. We appreciate all of the feedback.

We realize that the startup time has increased since the last beta. We are currently working on a fix and hope to push it out soon.

nemo2e4 said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

nemo2e4 said...

The search doesn't work too well.

Can't find Mizar, Zeta Ursae Majoris or even "Ursa Major" (two spaces!).

And I'm sitting here with my G1 keyboard open in landscape mode but flat, and the map is upside down! Unhelpful.

Nooruddin said...

When I first updated my Sky Map...I had issue like it won't work at all. I had the same problem like Wade-0. So, I un-installed and re-installed the program and it worked.

Revtim said...

Kevin Serafini,
thanks for stopping by.

You mention the long startup time being addressed, what about the force close issue many have?

Also, is there an official place to report bugs?

Thanks,
Tim

tbg83 said...

I don't understand. I just can't seem to found the app. Do you filter the app availability by country? (I'm in France) I can't wait to test it

Wade-0 said...

The force close issue is related to the slow startup. WAIT FOR THE APP TO LOAD! If you press any keys while the screen is black and the app is loading, it will prompt you to force close or wait. If you just sit tight, eventually a star map will be displayed.

I resolved my issue with the map not changing automatically when I moved around. When I touched the display, there was an icon displayed in the lower right corner of the screen that looked like a star, and touching it caused the application to switch to "Auto mode" and it worked great after that. I'm not sure why it wasn't in that mode to begin with though.

Revtim said...

I am waiting for it to load, in fact I'm not even holding the phone. I have screen timeout turned off, and the phone is lying flat on the table. I touch the Sky Map icon, the initial screen appears, and 25 seconds later it force closes.

I'm not pressing any keys, or even touching the phone.

I tried uninstalling and reinstalling the app as well, but it still does not run.

Tim

Revtim said...

OK, I figured out my problem. My SD card didn't have enough space for the app to download its data.

The app needs to check that it has enough space before downloading its data and give a meaningful error message to the user, or at least give a meaningful error if it runs out of space while downloading.

I don't know much about Android/Java, but perhaps some kind of "disk full" error/exception can be caught?

The app looks cool, I wish it wasn't the middle of the day so I could use it!!!

Thanks,
Tim

Pope said...

I'm sure this app works, but a person can't really tell that.

The splash screen works, but then it never progresses past the black screen afterwards. Even after an uninstall+reinstall it won't ever progress.

If this is loading some data, then you need to take a lesson from UI design and give us a loading screen... a counter... some sign of life OTHER than a completely black screen.

For the moment: Epic Fail.

Kevin Serafini said...

We believe that we understand the root causes of both the slow startup time and the crash. We are currently testing a fix that addresses both issues. Once we are happy with the new build, we will push it to the Market.

Rob said...

It's a bit flakey starting up, and the auto screen orientation thing with cupcake kicks in when it should be disabled, but this application is mind blowing. Congratulations!

I'd like to see the same control mechanism with a 'streetview' and real-life ground based version with buildings tagged with a list of companies inside and contact info. Should also work in shopping malls.

S.tefa.N said...

looking good guys. Does it become availably for Windows Mobile users? If yes, when?

It would be truly amazing and I promise you, the next time I can choose a phone, it'll be android. I just want it on my WM phone right now!! :)

Lauren said...

Worked fine for me right off the bat. Best hack I've seen in quite awhile! I immediately started thinking about real-time low earth orbit satellite displays, ISS tracking, pinpointing of Iridium flares ...

Great work.

Nooruddin said...

The update is in and its working great now...thanks for all the work

Digitaloranges said...

Thanks Google! Looks like my PlanetariaX app is dead in the water! Dammit!

noguerol said...

This idea is absolutely brilliant.

Manuel R. Ciosici said...

Any iPhone version coming?