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    What you may ask is a Smartlet.  If you have ever tried to check some data on your iPhone while adjusting your scope then you will know the problem of balancing several things at once as well as the control for your telescope.  What if you had your iPhone on your wrist like a watch.  Now you are hands free and can consult the planetarium on your wrist while setting up your scope.  Brilliant idea.  Of course it is.  Why has no one thought of this before. Smartlet is a Kickstarter project and the blurb from their page says this.

    "Smartlet is an iPhone case for your wrist. Instead of neurotically holding your phone waiting for a message or burying your phone in a pocket or purse, Smartlet keeps your hands free while keeping your iPhone in a super convenient location (your wrist). Unlike typical phone armbands that joggers use on their upper arms for running, Smartlet is: 1) minimalist by design, so that your iPhone's full screen is available to view notifications (like a smartwatch); 2) designed to be worn with everyday shirts by holding your iPhone by its buttons and allowing the lower half of the device to fit over a shirt cuff; and 3) locks your iPhone securely in place through a patent-pending unidirectional button locking mechanism, so that you can easily slide your iPhone in and out when you need it. In short, Smartlet frees up your hands so your phone doesn't interfere with your everyday life."

    Just what astronomers need.  If you are intersted take a look at the proejct on Kickstarter. There is still time to get one.



    iPad debuts

    Yesterday Apple announced a new model in its iPad range.  This new venture was predicted and heralds the arrival of the the iPad mini.

    So how does it compare with the iPad which has seen three generations.

    Most people will notice the screen.  It has shrunk from 9.7” to 7.9” along the diagonal. 

    The physical dimensions are as follows with the iPad shown in brackets

    Height  200mm 7.87” (241.2 mm  9.5”)

    Width 134.7mm 5.3” (185.7 mm 7.31”)

    Depth 7.2mm 0.28” (9.4mm 0.37”)

    Weight 308g 0.68 pounds (652g 1.44 pounds)

    So in percentage terms the iPad mini is 83 % of the height. 72% of the width and 77% of the depth of the the iPad.

    Weight is half that of the the iPad.

    The boast and the main selling point though is that all the apps that run on the iPad will run on the iPad mini.

    No doubt Apple have felt a slight chill from the emerging competition and keen to hold their stake in the tablet market.

    How about astronomy?  Well all your favourite apps should work.  However, if you are using an iPad already there is little to attract you to mini version.  The processor is Apple's A5 dual core against the A6 quad.  The larger screen on the iPad is more easy to see and better on the eyes.  Where you may gain though is in the weight.  Holding the iPad up at the night sky, particularly with the amazing well crafted Sky Survey by Nick Risinger will mean less arm ache.  I have yet to get one to play with and see how dim the display will go.

    So we will see how the take up takes off.  Strategically placed before Christmas it is bound to sell well.


    The Transit of Venus - A Sign of the Times

    Not available in 2004 when the last transit of Venus took place.  Indeed the iPhone did not appear until 2007 when Steve Jobs announced it on 9th January.  Since then the app world has burgeoned.  We now have a new app specifically for the Iphone/iPad.  It is designed for the iPhone but will work on the iPad.  US observers should take care that the date format is European so day is before month.  The app gives you at a glance information as to whether you will will see all or part of the transit. Clicking on visibility will show the time of all four contacts as well as your local sunrise and sunset.  If the data is greyed out then that part of the transit is not visible from your location.   There is a simulation section that lets you check you timing.   

    There is a timer page which does not become active until the transit is in progress but the promise is that when you have logged the data you can submit it to a website site.   The timing is using the GPS clock.  The app has been created by Rikkert Koppes.

    Needless to say you will need to have set up your observing equipment for this transit.    The usual warning applies never look at the Sun with any optical equipment not even your naked eye.  It is just too bright and it will permanently damage your eyesight.

    You will also find informaton on this project at

    You will find the app on the Itunes store.  Just look for VenusTransit.


    The 'new' iPad is here

    The much awaited iPad is out.

    I was going to say the iPad 3 but Apple has chosen to just call it the “new iPad”.  There will be some confusion for sure.  However where there is a significant improvement is in the display.  If you thought that the display on the iPad 2 was good then the new iPad jumps the resolution from 1024 by 768, the old VGA resolution, to 2048 by 1536.  This is the type of retina display that was introduced in the  iPhone 4.  So this doubles the resolution in each direction and is thus 4 times better.  The movies that you can see on the Apple website are stunning.  In terms of pixels per per inch the iPad 2 had 132 pixels per inch and on the new iPad it is now 264 pixels per inch.  So how will the performance suffer?  Rendering, Apple claims, is unaffected and that battery use would be the same as the iPad 2 which is about 10 hours of use.  Needless to say to keep up with this you need a faster chip and the new iPad sees the A5X.  

    In terms of dimensions very little changes.  Height and width remain the same but the thickness shrinks a little by 0.6 mm.  Its weight increases by 51g for the basic Wi-Fi model.

    The iSight camera  is a 5 mega pixel camera and that poses an interesting possibility.  It should enable the iPad to be held at the eyepiece to grab live images from your scope.  

    One feature possibly based on Siri enables live dictation to be taken and for you spoken words to be converted to text.  

    Those of you who use the iPad to control your scope should be able to expect that to continue.

    This new iPad will prove to be a great success and of particular interest to astronomers who crave for  fine details in the pictures offered on the web and from their own sources.


    Apps continue to grow

    The app phenomena continues.  A quick look in the app stores shows that  are 251 apps that appear if you type in the word ‘Astronomy’.  Try ‘planetarium’ and you get 28.  Just which one is best is an impossible question to answer.  They have different strengths and weaknesses but two of my favourites are Redshift and SkySafariPro.

    Redshift has a pleasant interface. I used it when giving several talks in support of the BBC’s Stargazing Live in January.  A VGA cable let me hook up the screen direct to the computer projector.  I had considered using Stellarium and  a laptop.  Redshift is so easy to use that I could control the demonstration  in real time while I gave the commentary.  I was easily able to demonstrate polar motion and why many of the stars were circumpolar.  Great for a lay audience.  At one school I found that the children were more interested in the artwork lying behind the constellation than the constellations themselves.

    SkySafariPro is more for the serious astronomer.  Huge detail and the ability to link the app and control you scope from the iPad.  I have not done that yet but would be interested to hear from anyone who has and how well that works.