Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Google Earth boggles my mind Again

Seems like one can't turn around without bumping into another innovative use for Google Earth. One of Realtors here on Bonaire is linking to Google Earth to show people where the properties they have listed are located - exactly.

But that's small potatoes. Here's what boggles the old mind.

You may remember that I recently mentioned a couple of Web sites that predict when you can observe the ISS and Iridium satellites passing overhead. That's pretty cool, especially for those of us who don't live in the Northern hemisphere, where most of the published magazine charts and predictions are set up for.

I've also been a long time follower of a site set up by Thomas Fly, who created a software routine to predict when the International Space Station will pass in front of a cool astronomical object as seen from your location. One can sign up for email alerts about upcoming events at your location.

This, to me, is really cool. I've tried to observe a couple predicted transits by the ISS, but haven't succeeded yet. One has to be in a pretty narrow range of locations for everything in space to line up and produce the meeting in the air, so to speak.

Well, just this year Ed Morana has published a Java Based Application, based on Thomas Fly's original program, which allows us to generate our own ISS transit predictions.

And... drum roll please........ you can plot the results on Google Earth! Yippie. Now I can look at a super detailed satellite map of Bonaire and see exactly where I need to park my trusty telescope in order to see the ISS pass in front of, for example, Jupiter (Friday night), or the moon (this coming Tuesday)!!!! I'm like a kid in a candy store, when playing with this (totally free) software.

There are three upcoming events shown on the picture I've included with this posting. The event for tonight is a near miss, but the other two will be viewable from our teeny tiny island, if the sky is clear. You'll probably have to click on that picture to see it large enough to make sense out of it.

The greenish line on the picture shows the places to be if you want to see the ISS pass exactly over the center of the Moon, or Jupiter, or whatever. If you are within the boundaries delineated by the parallel red lines, you can still see the ISS pass over some part of the celestial object. So in the above picture, the pass over the Moon on Tuesday won't be a bulls eye, but if I head to the South part of the island, I should be able to see the ISS pass over a small part of the moon. I'll have to video it to see it later in stop action, because it takes the ISS less than a second to pass in front of the moon. If you blink at the wrong instant, you've missed it.

Actually a zillion things could go wrong, so I probably won't be posting cool footage of the ISS passing in front of the moon next week. But now that I can run the software on my own computer and plot the results on a Bonaire map, I'm sure that sooner or later, I'll observe this. I'm psyched 'cause it must be a couple of years, at least, that I've been wanting to do this.

If you would like to have the actual output data file that you can open in Google Earth on your computer, and then zoom way in to see the exact path superimposed on the streets of Bonaire, email me and I'll send it to you.

Or download Ed Morana's software, and ISS and other data files and make some transit event predictions for yourself, at your location. There is so much amazing, absolutely free, astronomy related software available online, it boggles my mind... oops, me thinks I've already said that.

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