Thanks to cutting edge Web technologies, exploration of space is now more down to Earth. Your “mission control” could be the office chair or the couch at home. With the right space science apps on your smartphone, you can even take your interest in the heavens for a walk.
Thanks to our obsession to explore space, organizations like NASA only have to worry about funding. As the Mars One mission proves, there is a legion of people itching to take their space obsession to a bigger stage. The passion begins with education. You can make a beginning on your space journey with just the Chrome browser. Websites apart, the browser gives you access to quite a few space tools to perk up your interest and explore the last frontier.
The First Websites To Visit
Short of buying a telescope, Google Sky (Map) is the best way to look up into the night sky and browse the stars. On second thoughts, it is the best way because clouds and pollution do not impede you. Type the name of the planet or celestial body you want to view in the search box, and Google Sky pans to its location.
Google guides you with the knowledge collected from the best observatories around the world. Images are stitched together from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Digitized Sky Survey and the Hubble Space Telescope. Google Sky has other layers like – Infrared, Microwave, and Historical (as drawn by Giovanni Maria Cassini showing the constellations in their classical form). For instance, amateur astronomers can observe the universe at different wavelengths by clicking on the particular layer.
Space Themed Chrome Experiments
Join the amazing 36-year-long journey of the International Sun/Earth Explorer 3 (ISEE-3). This is a Chrome Experiment meant to highlight browser technologies like WebGL, Three.js, and the Google Cloud platform. The tools are of lesser interest as the interactive graphics merge with storytelling to show us a fascinating journey and its remarkable second life as a citizen science project. For space science buffs, the Chrome Experiment is educational as history of its flight blends with nuggets that explain space principles.
The interactive documentary is called “A Spacecraft For All” because the ISEE-3 was salvaged through crowdfunding after its original mission was over. Read the About page for the interesting backstory.
Nothings brings home the sheer scale of space better than interstellar visualizations. 100,000 Stars is another Chrome Experiment which shows us our immediate neighborhood of nearby stars (actually, 119,617 stars). Pan and zoom through the Milky Way using the mouse and the slider on the right. As you zoom in, you will see that about 87 stars have been named. Clicking on a star takes you to a closer visualization and a description sourced from Wikipedia. But if you just want to sit back and enjoy the spectacle, click the Take a tour button on the top left.
100,000 Stars is an artistic interpretation, but with the background music and creative modelling of the Milky Way, it is a trip you should definitely take from the comfort of your Chrome browser.
Asterank is an astronomically accurate interactive visualization of our inner solar system. If you are dreaming about starting a future space mining venture, this could be the tool to try out as it displays thousands of asteroids along with their mining prospects.
Chrome Extensions & Apps
This is a simple Chrome app that should help you learn astronomy. It is nothing fancy, but a shortcut to the mother website which has a long list of experiments and simulations that’s offered for free by NASA.You also get to see the NASA photo of the day – like the one in the screenshot above.
Alternatively, if you are only interested in the incredible photos released by NASA every day, go for the simple Amazing Astronomy extension.
This simple extension streams NASA’s own HD Channel to the browser. It is one of NASA’s multimedia offerings, bringing you the latest from the space center. Watch educational lecture series’, live coverage of manned missions, interviews, media briefings, the more exciting imagery from NASA’s vast array of space satellites, and recordings from the ISS as well. A link within the extension to check what programs are next up would have been helpful, but you can check the schedule here.
Neave Planetarium is a simulated browser based “theatre” for exploring the stars. It is also available as a Chrome extension and the high download figures shows its value as an educational tool. You can use it to explore the sky right above you or move it around to look at other locations. If you have a telescope, the browser tool is a handy aid. Point at a star or planet to reveal its name, its constellation, its brightness and its astronomical distance. Use a star or planet’s Right Ascension and Declination values to align your telescope with the celestial coordinates.
The truly commendable thing about this Chrome extension is that it’s a one-man project.
Skin Your Chrome With Space Themes
Remember your love for Star Trek? I continued that “spirit” by using the Windows Starfield screensaver back in the day. Space junkies of today can create better immersive experiences with platform skins and browser themes. Here are some of the better ones for Chrome. Most of these are obviously dark themes. Do write in and recommend the ones you like.
- Space Planet
- Blue Space Sunset Chrome Theme
- Earth from Outside Shuttle
- Galaxy Universe
- Colorful Space
What Else Is Out There?
There could be more tools. But yes, you space buffs, don’t go looking for Google Ultron – the super-powerful “browser” allegedly used by NASA. It is fictitious, though Google also got in the fun with a joke site in the hope that those who fell for it would at least give Google Chrome a look-see.
Who wouldn’t want to see what space really is like? For many of us, it will remain a dream. Thanks to the Web and these Google Chrome digital “spaceships” we can fulfill at least a part of our fantasy. Though, these tools aren’t just for fantasy-fulfillment, but also for education. How do you use them?
Are you a serious space enthusiast? Tell us all about your interest – We realize you could be in grade school or someone who holds a PhD in Astronomy.
Image Credit: Telescope on the grass (Shutterstock)