Idea #14: Stargazer

Here is an idea for someone with a passion for Astronomy. You will quickly realize that it requires background on computing and photography. Do not be discouraged!

Living in urban areas with electrical lights, we lost much of the ability to stargaze. We pratically can’t see faint stars or the beautiful patch of the Milky Way. On a full moon you can forget about it. And that is sad because it’s been a past time of mankind for millenia. Looking to the stars connects us with the universe and puts some things in perspective.


The patch of the Milky Way, usually too faint to be seen. image source

The idea is to manufacture and install a camera in a rural area, a farm, far from light pollution. This camera is pointed to the sky, and can rotate 360° on the horizontal plane and ~180° on the vertical plane (theta and phi in spherical coordinates). The camera streams the images to the internet to many clients around the world, stargazing.

So there is a tricky part in finding an isolate enough area, but with powerful enough internet connection. Internet access in the countryside can be a problem.

A live stream probably would yield images too faint though. It would probably be better to set it for long exposure photos (with the camera halted, of course). So an internet website would display high-quality photos of the sky, being updated on a regularly basis. The idea is to preserve true color as much as possible, to retain the feel.

Here the hardcore computing comes to play. A layer could be added to this photos, marking the astronomical objects and connecting the constellations, naming them. A search feature could enable search of a particular object, say Mars or the Voyager 1 probe. A full collection of telescope images could be added if one should select an celestial object.

This is done in many excellent phone apps  and online planetariums. But in the first case, one must first be able to see the star and in the latter it just feels like navigating an artificial image. It doesn’t give that feel of really looking into the stars. Most of the places online have really poor image quality.

There is a commercial dimension into these project, to explore this desire to actually seeing stars, getting familiar with the constellations and locating the planets. There could be two kinds of clients buying stargazing time of the camera.

A first type of stargazing clients would only get the images the camera is showing at the moment, and perhaps the ability to see past in its recorded images. They would have no control of the camera, but would be able to use the layer feature.

The second type would have full camera control for a given time. Only one of those clients at a time (per camera). The price of the camera/hour could be steeper for them. You could also make promotions for periods of low usage, as a marketing strategy.

Or maybe you could take an entirely different approach, and the position of the camera is defined in a pool. This would be more democratic, but would lose the personal satisfaction of controlling alone an object miles away.

It’s not supposed to be a telescope (with zoom feature), that would be an entirely different thing, with much more complexity. It would probably be impractical as a time-shared telescope.

Perhaps this company could also sell the projection equipment to say, display this starfield in a bedroom. I would certanly like to have the feeling of sleeping under the stars, but comfortably indoors.

[IMAGE: Djorgovski 1 globular cluster, near the center of our galaxy.  ESA/Hubble image source]

*Note: The content of these notes is not endorsed or affiliated with NASA/ESA, and express solely the author’s view.