A Digital Space Tracker That Prompts Users to Look Up
At this and at every moment, the Earth, and all the species who reside on it, are pushing through time and space, surrounded by celestial bodies that are simultaneously doing the same. But the universe’s extraordinary choreography is rarely top of mind, if on our minds at all. Instead, most of us go about our days, weeks, and months in a routine manner, leaning into the circular rhythms our calendars afford us.
Timeanddate.com, a website run by the Norwegian company Time and Date AS, offers a wealth of information that encourages us to turn our eyes upward. In addition to providing typical location-based tools such as weather forecasts, clocks, and calendars, the site features a Sun and Moon page, which tracks the visibility of the Sun, the Moon, and the planets in the Milky Way from specific locations on Earth. Plug in a city or zip code, and the site’s algorithms—which use data provided by the United States Naval Observatory and NASA—determine when various celestial bodies will rise and set in that particular locale.
Though the site’s output is based on intricate astronomical equations, its creators are dedicated to providing a straightforward, easily navigable ecosystem. “We translate complex issues into content that makes sense for users who have little specialist knowledge or equipment, and that is relevant for them,” says the site’s lead editor, Konstantin Bikos. The most user-friendly tool might be the Night Sky Map, an interactive, 360-degree simulation of the firmament at a given location in real time or at a designated hour. To further aid the viewing experience, the map also includes a color-coded overview of optimal viewing times, projections of astronomical events (such as the phases of the Moon and solar and lunar eclipses), as well as tips on equipment, such as binoculars, that may be needed to spot fainter celestial bodies. The map, Bikos says, is the “centerpiece of our effort to make astronomy accessible and relevant to any user.” The educational tool, alongside others on the site, can help us to situate ourselves in boundless space, to remember the staggering scale of it, and to be rightly in awe of it.