Great notes from Cam Myhrvold about astronomy for amateurs. So I am at astronomy camp put on by the University of Arizona. Here are three very cool pieces of software/sites.

“Clear Dark Sky”:

It looks at the weather forecast (wind, cloud cover, and I guess the key thing is the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere above your location) and predicts how good viewing will be on a particular night across the U.S. And Canada using a index of nightime viewing they have developed. Like accuweather for astronomers.

“Heaves above”:

This site tracks satellites in orbit and tells you when you will see them at your location. I tracks dozens and dozens of satellites. The coolest thing about this is tracking the Iridium Flash. Iridium was of course the company that put up a constellation of low earth orbiting satellite for wireless communications. The company went bankrupt but one legacy they did leave is huge satellites (Iridium put phone switching into each satellite so they are fucking big) in a low orbit and with their solar reflectors out they literally light up the earth beneath them. Depending on your locale they can streak by at magnitude -9. For reference this is about 100x brighter than jupiter (the brightest planet in our sky).

I haven’t seen this but would like to. I am in tucson at the moment and 2 passed by last night at magnitudes -1 and -6 (alas I went to bed a little after 3 and they passed at 5:02). Google Iridium Flash and you can see some dramatic photos or be a real man and stay up and see them for yourself with heavens-above.

Starry Night

This software turns your PC into a very powerful planetarium. Want to know how how neptune will look from Io (one of the moons of Jupiter) on May 1 at 12:01 in 2019? This will show you. Does Pluto actually pass inside the orbit of Uranus? This will show you (and the answer is non trivial). You can also do stuff like recreate a total solar eclipse and view it from multiple locations at once (for instance from earth and then from the moon looking back at earth). Don’t know what it costs but it’s not much