There’s something fascinating going on when you look at the starry night sky. Whether you’re observing it though an instrument or not, you may feel overwhelmed when you try to imagine the immensity of the Cosmos. It’s a fantastic experience, but unfortunately, depending on where you live, you may find it hard to see any stars at all due to urban light pollution. Major professional observatories are located in remote places, far from human activity; but getting to these sites is hardly an option for most amateur astronomers. That being said, loading the car and driving an hour to get away from the city lights is not uncommon for stargazers. Once you’ve got your gear loaded, the next question is, where do you go?
Enter light pollution charts. They represent how dark the nightly sky is at any given location. They’re drawn algorithmically using onsite measurements and take the surrounding light emissions into consideration. When placed over a Google map, for instance, these maps allow you to find dark sky spots where amateur astronomers and astrophotographers can set up their telescopes. Once you find a nice spot, you may want to share it with others in your local community and find out what they’ve found. And why not, meet them in the field? Amateur astronomy forums are a good place to swap information and arrange trips, but there’s a guy who has taken this concept to a whole new level. Sujay PATIL is a French-Indian amateur astronomer living in Paris who realized that mobile amateur astronomers need three things: a way to find nice viewing spots, a way to share them with other stargazers and a way for everyone to connect so they can organize star parties and observation sessions.
Sujay is currently creating two separate smartphone and website applications that will work in tandem: Dark Sky Map and Meet Stargazers. Dark Sky Map contains Google Maps overlays and allows astronomers to search for suitable spots using the satellite view and data from light pollution charts. You can add a spot to the map and a description is automatically populated with an overview of the quality of the sky in that location and ratings from other stargazers.
Meet Stargazers is a mobile application that allows you to organize stargazing sessions or star parties in a snap and share calendars with your friends. It’s designed to fully integrate with Dark Sky Map and should offer a messaging system as well.