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A space-age search engine

eZipSkyWant to know what time the moon will rise in your neck of the woods, which planet is in which constellation tonight, or when the Internation Space Station will next be overhead? There is not much stargazing going in England at the moment, too much H20 falling from the sky, but eZipSky’s free service for amateur astronomers in the US, is a kind of search engine for heavenly bodies.

The eZipSky recently announced its Interactive SkyEngine, possibly the simplest way to search for many common features of the sky at night. Enter your zipcode and an object of desire – the moon, ISS, a planet, constellation – and the SkyEngine returns that object’s location or tells you when it will next be visible from your location.

Available sky objects include the sun, the moon, the naked-eye planets, the constellations, the 150 brightest stars, the brightest star clusters and galaxies, and upcoming meteor showers. It also provides hits for the International Space Station, the Hubble Space Telescope, more than 100 other earth-orbiting satellites, and, when it’s in Earth orbit, the Space Shuttle.

Imagining I was in Cambridge, MA, as opposed to Cambridge, UK, I tried out the zipcode for Harvard Science, 02138, and apparently I should “Look for the Andromeda Galaxy after it rises tonight at 20:51 and before sunrise tomorrow morning at 5:14.” The results provided also offer tips on what to search for next, so following their lead I ran a search on Mars and got a similar pair of times to watch out for it. Something that was lacking when I first visited the site was reference compass points to help newbie amateur astronomers pinpoint their objects of desire and not spend all night looking at some random twinkling object rather than the ISS, Mars, or a neighbouring galaxy.

I mentioned this to eZipSky’s Peter Busch and he tells me that the web team has now implemented my idea. Now, that’s service for you!

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