Most countryside campsites are free from the light pollution that plagues most cities and present a great opportunity to see the night sky more clearly, but you don’t need to pitch up in the middle of nowhere to take a peek at outer space.
Created by NASA astronomer Joshua Peek, The Invisible Universe is a free app for Android smartphones that reveals the parts of the cosmos that can’t even be seen with a telescope, let alone the naked eye.
Rather than show stars, The Invisible Universe simulates what it’s like to see the interstellar medium through eyes that can detect other parts of the electromagnet spectrum, namely X-rays, ultraviolet, infrared, and so on.
When view in this way, the seemingly empty parts of the sky are shown to contain a myriad of structures, from the remnants of long-exploded stars to energy being sucked into the super massive black hole at the centre of our galaxy.
The clever part is that The Invisible Universe uses ‘augmented reality’ to display a highly realistic view on these invisible parts of the sky. The app uses onboard GPS and motion sensors to move the on-screen image in accordance with the smartphone’s position.
So, move the smartphone around and the display moves with it, just as if you were looking through a camera viewfinder rather than an astronomical simulation and the direction the smartphone is facing dictates the simulated part of the sky shown on-screen.
The Invisible Universe is probably more of interest to people who want to know more about what makes the universe tick rather than where to find Saturn on a starry nigh, but a smartphone can help with that, too.
Google Sky Map is a free app that uses the same augmented reality technology to show stars, planets, constellations and other astronomical bodies — it can even pinpoint the sun when the prevailing weather conditions otherwise make it difficult…