Ad Astra per Google Earth

Have you seen Google Earth’s new Sky feature? It is a distilled example of one of those ideas, once you’ve seen it, that seems so perfect, so natural, that makes you wonder why it wasn’t OBVIOUS for all of us to wonder why it wasn’t already in Google Earth, Live Local, and their geography-rendering friends.

Google Earth Sky

Google Earth’s first version featuring the sky (Google Earth v4.2) isn’t without its faults. For example, searching the sky for “northern star” returns no results. But “alpha centauri” takes you straight to a high-res photograph of Rigel Kentaurus, which is exactly right. “Big Dipper” zooms you way too far in to be useful (zoom out to see Ursa Major), etc etc. The timeline feature looks useful but not entirely intuitive. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The one thing that I would have expected to be intuitive, but isn’t, is how to get a view of the night sky for a given latitude and longitude at a given time, with the presentation making clear the azimuth and elevation of your point of view.

A sample app for such a view (inspired by being here on the lake, away from the city): on a given date, show me the path of the sun all the way down to the horizon. Oh, and, if poss, render the nice 3D geography there too. And then show me the stars that will be there after sunset, and how they will traverse the sky — and what I should look out for in the sky as I listen to the waves crash up.

Anyways, wow.