In the shops

Our pick of the best books, apps, soft­ware and ac­ces­sories for as­tron­omy and space fans

All About Space - - Contents -

“What we found to be an in­cred­i­bly use­ful fea­ture was the star pat­terns that are etched into the ret­i­cle”

Soft­ware Uni­verse Sand­box 2

Cost: £18.99 ($24.49) From: Steam Play

A space sim­u­la­tor that can be down­loaded to your com­puter, Uni­verse Sand­box 2 is ideal for those who are keen to mix their love of gam­ing and the uni­verse. Un­like many games on the mar­ket, how­ever, Uni­verse Sand­box doesn’t have a mis­sion, but you can have fun cre­at­ing uni­verses, play­ing with ex­ist­ing ones and the ob­jects within them.

On the whole, the developers have im­pres­sively en­sured that all the com­po­nents (ex­clud­ing the teapots) within this vir­tual cos­mos – in­clud­ing plan­ets, comets and stars – act as they should when obey­ing the laws of physics. If the user al­ters the sys­tems in any way, chaos un­folds, re­veal­ing how the So­lar Sys­tem and even our galaxy could be af­fected if the bal­ance of the uni­verse is up­set even slightly. In gen­eral, the premise of the game is sim­ple – put var­i­ous rocks in space, set var­i­ous phys­i­cal prop­er­ties in­clud­ing ve­loc­ity, mass and den­sity, then watch them get to work. What­ever you de­cide to do – whether its mak­ing the Earth the same size as the Sun, throw­ing Mer­cury past the or­bits of Uranus and Nep­tune or ac­ci­den­tally blow­ing up Jupiter and watch­ing it form a sec­ond as­ter­oid belt, Uni­verse Sand­box 2 is cer­tainly worth hav­ing a play with, given its mod­est price tag.

App SkEye Pro

Cost: £4.73 (ap­prox. $6.10) From: Google Play

An ad­vanced plan­e­tar­ium for the astronomer, whether you’re a begin­ner or have been tour­ing the night sky for years, SkEye is the per­fect com­pan­ion for nav­i­gat­ing the night sky. What’s more this app – which can be down­loaded to any An­droid de­vice – is unique in the sense that you can strap it to a tele­scope or a pair of binoc­u­lars, al­low­ing you to tour the night sky with the app and your in­stru­ment combined. A ‘sim­pler’ ver­sion of SkEye is also avail­able as a free app for An­droid and Kin­dle Fire HD users.

SkEye’s in­ter­face is smooth, as is its abil­ity to track ob­jects in the night sky. It is also quick at find­ing our favourite tar­gets and, in com­par­i­son to other free apps, SkEye is very good at geo-align­ing with ac­cu­racy and ease – some­thing that be­gin­ners to as­tron­omy will be ex­tremely grate­ful for.

In an at­tempt to cater for a wide au­di­ence though, it has its draw­backs. Many of the Messier ob­jects (gal­ax­ies, star clus­ters and neb­u­lae) we found didn’t have a great deal of in­for­ma­tion about them built into the app, some­thing that may put off some users. If this doesn’t bother you, SkEye cer­tainly holds its own when nav­i­gat­ing the night sky.

Book Rocket Men: The Dar­ing Odyssey of Apollo 8

Cost: £18.99 ($24.49) From: Scribe Pub­li­ca­tions

Re­leased 50 years af­ter man first or­bited the Moon, Rocket Men tells the in­side story of Apollo 8, when the Apollo pro­gram was on shaky foot­ing. This book, writ­ten by Robert Kur­son, un­cov­ers Pres­i­dent Kennedy’s end-of-the-decade dead­line where his plans to put man on the Moon were in jeop­ardy and the Sovi­ets were threat­en­ing to pull ahead in the Space Race. With time run­ning out, NASA had four short months to pre­pare for one of the great­est mis­sions in his­tory.

Rocket Men fo­cuses on the three heroic as­tro­nauts – Frank F. Bor­man, James A. “Jim” Lovell, Jr and Wil­liam A. An­ders – and their fam­i­lies, re­veal­ing the epic dan­ger and brav­ery it took for hu­man­ity to leave the Earth for the very first time. Beau­ti­fully writ­ten with a vivid and grip­ping nar­ra­tive, Kur­son keeps the story sim­ple yet ex­plains the sig­nif­i­cance of the event in such a way that those with a pass­ing in­ter­est in space ex­plo­ration will be un­able to put it down. Not dry in even the slight­est, it’s a non-fic­tion book like no other.

Ac­ces­sories Ce­le­stron CG-4 Po­lar Axis Finder

Cost: £39 (ap­prox. $50.29) From: David Hinds Ltd

The aim of the Ce­le­stron CG-4 Po­lar Axis Finder is to aid you in set­ting up your equa­to­rial mount rapidly and ef­fec­tively – it fea­tures a fo­cus con­trol, pro­tected screws and an 18mm aper­ture. In­stalling the ac­ces­sory into the po­lar finder port of our tele­scope, lo­cated at the rear of the mount, was a breeze. Fo­cus­ing the eyepiece was sim­ple, and we were treated to clear and crisp views of the night sky.

What we found to be an in­cred­i­bly use­ful fea­ture was the star pat­terns that are etched into the ret­i­cle.

We’re in the North­ern Hemi­sphere, so used the Big Dip­per as­ter­ism as well as the fa­mil­iar ‘W’ of Cas­siopeia to guide us. The Big Dip­per was more use to us dur­ing the sum­mer and the spring, while Cas­siopeia will serve ob­servers best in the au­tumn and win­ter. If you’re a South­ern Hemi­sphere ob­server then the four stars of the con­stel­la­tion Oc­tans is etched into the ret­i­cle.

Qual­ity is ex­cel­lent, as ex­pected for a Ce­le­stron prod­uct, and plac­ing North Star Po­laris into the crosshairs af­ter ad­just­ing our azimuth and al­ti­tude con­trols was a breeze – now that we’ve used it, we re­ally couldn’t live with­out it.

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