Wednesday, March 16, 2016

VdN App and MySkyAtNight wishlist

How can we improve the app?

Your feedback helps us improve the app. We don't currently have funding for further development, but hopefully that will change in the future, and we can do one final change to the method, and then fix it for a long period. If you have more suggestions for how to improve the app, please let me know in the comments.

Things to change/improve in a future version of the app

Star search

  • Further improve star selection based on app data (preferentially use easier stars)
  • Make more use of "pointing stars"
  • Allow search to start with Venus or Jupiter
  • Allow the user to change the sensor settings (speed and/or damping)
  • When screen is frozen, allow navigation by sliding finger 
  • Option in settings to not lock screen when star is found
  • Shaking the phone unlocks the locked circle (goes back to arrow) 
  • Try to work out that the user is standing on a balcony, and don't suggest stars in that direction 
  • Allow the user to adjust the number of stars displayed on the screen to match a given skyglow level? (we don't want to do this, as this could potentially cause biased observations)


  • Add reminder: "never use the app alone" at start up
  • Improve clarity that data will be transferred by requiring opt-in to send the data once the observation is finished, and follow up with a second reminder that the location will be made public, require second opt-in for data to be sent
  • Figure out what causes the occasional crash on startup
  • Strategies for classifying areas with NELM>5
  • Interface to allow advanced users to submit what their estimate of the limiting magnitude is
  • New "constellation mode". Highlights a single constellation, and the user has to click on a star to declare it visible (turns from dot to star) and click a second time to declare it invisible (turns from star to empty circle or x), click third time for "just at visible limit"
    •  Or extend this mode to cover several hundred stars over the whole sky, and the observer can just pick which ones she wants to label?
  • Manual way to calibrate the compass to remove azimuth error 
    • Add a compass-free option in "settings" menu for places with weird magnetic fields
  • Investigate behavior of auto brightness on Android (does it turn to full on app startup for some phones?)
  • Allow "SQM only" install for phones without gyroscope/compass 
  • Add button to "send again" on the data page (for data points that don't get sent - and return a debugging message if it can't be sent?)


  • Badges - you've observed 7 stars, you've repeated an observation at the same location ~1 year later, you've done 10 observations, 5 times in a single city, 5 locations, etc...
  • Guide users to locations that we particularly need measurements (e.g. repeat measurements from previous years).
  • Incorporate SciStarter API to allow participants to track their contributions across various citizen science projects.
  • Incentivize good data: Have a friendly competition where the best quality and quantity is rewarded (with a visit to the closest telescope and a personal lecture from an astronomer). Reward observations in particularly important locations
  • Welcoming email to new participants
  • Option to have your observation results emailed to you after each session
    • Option to share your observation on social media after the session
  • Add option to user settings that data is visible on the public map. Make the user choose which setting they prefer when they conclude their first observation.

Extra features

  • Check the clock using GPS and warn the user if their phone's clock is off by more than 2 minutes (and then exit app). Prevents records having a false time
  • Allow option of displaying user's location on a map to make sure it is correct
  • A "talking" tutorial that tells you how to find the stars, asks you to turn in different directions, etc.
  • Video tutorial
  • Allow observing below 45 degrees and making maps of the stellar visibility on the full sky dome (expert mode)
  • Find a way to calibrate the compass within the app (on Android, iOS already has this)
  • Incorporate My Sky at Night into the app itself
  • Port to WindowsPhone and Blackberry


  • Start looking for GPS location on app start up, verify again before star search
    • Especially for SQM report, GPS should run in the background while typing value
  • Reduce the size/thickness of the circle during the star search on Android
  • Better messaging in "Not dark enough" menu during high latitude summer 
  • Allow users to add SQM serial number, and SQM-L or SQM
  • Remove names of unused stars & constellations, to make it easier on the translators 

My Sky at Night

  • Allow users to customize font size and color, and background color
  • Minor bug fixes:
    • Duplicate observations
    • Display of transmission instead of acquisition time (e.g. observation 40417) 

Now it's your turn. What other changes should we make to the app?

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Globe at Night turns 10!

The Globe at Night project turned 10 years old this month! Citizen scientists have contributed tens of thousands of data points over the last 10 years:

Clear-sky moon-free Globe at Night observations, 2006- Feb 2016.
Explore the data yourself at!
In its early years Globe at Night wasn't a year-round campaign, so for time series analyses March is the most important month for new Globe at Night observations. So if you have clear skies between now and March 10, take a moment to look for Orion, and let Globe at Night know how many stars you can see by filling out this form (available in 28 languages).