Google Sky Map Takes to the Stars

With Sky Map for Android, Google Pittsburgh develops a stargazing app to help users learn about the night sky.


 

Kevin Serafini and John Taylor heard about the Android, a secret smartphone project that was still under development, during their first week at Google Pittsburgh. The phone would have a compass and GPS, and these two new co-workers—who also happened to be amateur astronomers—thought: Wouldn’t it be cool if we could make an app that was like a planetarium that recognized where you were looking?

For their first few months at Google Pittsburgh, they went about their jobs, but in the back of their minds, they were always thinking about the Sky Map app. In August 2008, when the Android test device finally arrived at the office, Taylor put together a pitch to get people interested. He took a photo of a compass, a rolled-up atlas and a carpenter’s level—all taped haphazardly to an office telephone—and playfully labeled the photo “Sky Map Prototype.”

“That’s basically what Sky Map is,” says Serafini. “It gets your location from [the] GPS. It knows what direction you’re facing by the compass. You have the map to know what the sky looks like depending on what direction you’re pointing, and, oh yeah, there’s also a phone there.”

That was the beginning of the Google Sky Map for Android. Just point your phone to the heavens, and a labeled map will appear to tell you what celestial figures you’re seeing. If you’re looking for something particular, just type it in the search box, and an arrow will show you which direction to point the phone until you reach it. And while nothing beats the memories of a glow-in-the-dark constellation book, this does seem a bit more user-friendly.

Google Sky Map for Android was developed under a Google program called “20 percent time,” where employees spend 20 percent of their time—or approximately one day each week—working on projects that interest them that aren’t necessarily related to their everyday jobs. Google Sky, an extension of Google Earth, was a 20 percent project, and so was Gmail. Serafini and Taylor pitched Sky Map as their 20 percent project and assembled a team. They completed their app in November 2008, and it became an official Google app in May 2009.

So, you may be wondering: How’s the app doing out there in the world? Because it’s not linked to the network, people can use this anywhere—from hiking in Alaska to lounging on a cruise ship in the middle of the Mediterranean—and they do. One user told the duo he taped his phone directly to his telescope. But, better yet, people are using it here in Pittsburgh.

When Deborah Knox approached the duo to help with Deep Sky, an urban stargazing party in Lawrenceville, they were thrilled to have Google sponsor the event. Volunteers from the company, including Serafini and Taylor, came out to spend that cool July evening with 600 other community members. As an almost full moon rose in the sky, attendees used the technology to help locate the five planets that were visible that night.

In October, Google Sky Map volunteers visited an event with the Girls, Math & Science Partnership, a program of the Carnegie Science Center. Organizer Athena Aardweg explains that using the phone app “allows the girls to experience what technology can provide them … but in a cool way.” And in that way, Sky Map—and its developers’ support of community events—is much more than just another app; it actually stirs our curiosity and encourages us to learn.

To view a Web version of the app, visit google.com/sky.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

A History of Pittsburgh, in 50 Artifacts

A History of Pittsburgh, in 50 Artifacts

For a city only two centuries old, Pittsburgh has amassed a surprising amount of history. To assemble this collection of 50 of the region’s most fascinating historical artifacts, we hunted through museums, archives and private collections. We also looked for things many of us might pass each day without appreciating their significance.
The Origins of Isaly’s: It's Not What You Think

The Origins of Isaly’s: It's Not What You Think

Tracing the story of the chain back to its roots — which, surprisingly, are not in Pittsburgh.
In the Frame: Julie Sokolow Sees the Future

In the Frame: Julie Sokolow Sees the Future

After making films focused on Pittsburgh, Sokolow is rising through the ranks of U.S. women documentarians.
Restaurant Review: Salem's Market & Grill in the Strip District

Restaurant Review: Salem's Market & Grill in the Strip District

Salem’s offers accessible and delicious meals for Pittsburghers of all stripes.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Mike Feinberg Company Says Goodbye to Pittsburgh

Mike Feinberg Company Says Goodbye to Pittsburgh

After 60 years of supplying Pittsburgh oddities and party favors, the staff of Feinberg’s in the Strip District says they’ll miss the love the city has shown them.
Friday Night Sleep Out to Raise Money for Homeless

Friday Night Sleep Out to Raise Money for Homeless

If you’re on the hunt for Friday night plans with a purpose, consider sleeping outside to benefit those in Pittsburgh who have to spend every night on the streets.
The Fascinating History of the David McCullough Bridge

The Fascinating History of the David McCullough Bridge

More than 80 years after its demise was erroneously reported, the David McCullough Bridge still stands as an engineering and architectural highlight among the city’s many spans.
Gone Viral: Duquesne Students Score Big With Rat Slapshot

Gone Viral: Duquesne Students Score Big With Rat Slapshot

Their tic-tac-toe passing would impress Mike Sullivan.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

A History of Pittsburgh, in 50 Artifacts

A History of Pittsburgh, in 50 Artifacts

For a city only two centuries old, Pittsburgh has amassed a surprising amount of history. To assemble this collection of 50 of the region’s most fascinating historical artifacts, we hunted through museums, archives and private collections. We also looked for things many of us might pass each day without appreciating their significance.
The Origins of Isaly’s: It's Not What You Think

The Origins of Isaly’s: It's Not What You Think

Tracing the story of the chain back to its roots — which, surprisingly, are not in Pittsburgh.
In the Frame: Julie Sokolow Sees the Future

In the Frame: Julie Sokolow Sees the Future

After making films focused on Pittsburgh, Sokolow is rising through the ranks of U.S. women documentarians.
Restaurant Review: Salem's Market & Grill in the Strip District

Restaurant Review: Salem's Market & Grill in the Strip District

Salem’s offers accessible and delicious meals for Pittsburghers of all stripes.
Pittsburgh Penguins Share Tips for Parenting on Ice

Pittsburgh Penguins Share Tips for Parenting on Ice

In a year when youth-hockey participation is expected to increase, Pittsburgh Penguins players weigh in on the role of the hockey parent.
Face the Frost: Go Daytripping on Winter Hikes in Pittsburgh

Face the Frost: Go Daytripping on Winter Hikes in Pittsburgh

There’s a magical, snowy landscape right in your backyard.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Mike Feinberg Company Says Goodbye to Pittsburgh

Mike Feinberg Company Says Goodbye to Pittsburgh

After 60 years of supplying Pittsburgh oddities and party favors, the staff of Feinberg’s in the Strip District says they’ll miss the love the city has shown them.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
CSA Day Reminds Pittsburghers (and Beyond) To Support Local Farms

CSA Day Reminds Pittsburghers (and Beyond) To Support Local Farms

It's the third year running for the concept, which was created by Simon Huntley of Pittsburgh's Small Farm Central.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

These spots are tailored for couples who are looking for a simple, chill night out on Valentine’s Day (or any other day). If your significant other isn’t the type to be wooed by expensive wines and chocolates, this is the list for you.

Comments


Adventure Bingo Returns at the Ace Hotel

Adventure Bingo Returns at the Ace Hotel

The one-of-a-kind night of bingo, trivia and madcap monologues returns in a new spot.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Dave Hanson and the Enduring Legacy of Slap Shot

Dave Hanson and the Enduring Legacy of Slap Shot

The Hanson Brothers and other stars of the classic hockey film will return to Johnstown this weekend for a 40th anniversary celebration.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Chalk It Up

Chalk It Up

Doodle while you dine, or let your imagination run wild, with chalkboard placemats from Pittsburgh-based Chalk Lots.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Our Full 2017 Oscar Predictions (Wherein La La Land Wins Everything)

Our Full 2017 Oscar Predictions (Wherein La La Land Wins Everything)

Breaking down what we know and only think we know about the 2017 Academy Awards.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Our Favorite Unique Centerpiece (That’s Not Flowers)

Our Favorite Unique Centerpiece (That’s Not Flowers)

This couple’s centerpiece from our Real Pittsburgh Weddings shines brighter than the traditional table bouquet.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
The Candle Lab Ready To Make Its Debut in Lawrenceville

The Candle Lab Ready To Make Its Debut in Lawrenceville

The Columbus-based store, where you can customize your own candle fragrance, is expected to open in March.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Get a Behind-the-Scenes Look at ‘Fences’

Get a Behind-the-Scenes Look at ‘Fences’

An art director from Warner Bros. Studios will visit La Roche College to talk about the Oscar-nominated film with ties to Pittsburgh.

Comments