In the shops
Our pick of the best books, apps, software and accessories for astronomy and space fans
“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.