Review by Michelle Kitt, Common Sense Education | Updated February 2013

Google Sky

Space map captivates with celestial images but needs an update

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Teachers say (1 Review)
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Grades
4-12 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: The data and images come from reputable space sources.

Cons: The lack of context and out-of-date information loses kids and teachers fast.

Bottom Line: The map of space looks good but lacks details, context, and current information.

Google Sky might be a unique tool for getting kids interested in astronomy, but the information lacks context. A good star map answers the following questions:

  • How far away is it?
  • How big is it, compared to other familiar objects like the Earth, moon, or sun?
  • Can I see it from where I live?

Google Sky doesn't specify a distance between each zoom level, and unless information lives in a pop-up, these questions go unanswered. We suggest you visit the contributing sites directly and look elsewhere for current, mobile star maps. Then forget the computer, and take the kids outside for that first unforgettable glimpse through a telescope of the moon's battered surface or Saturn's distant, bright rings.

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Google Sky is a space map based on data and images from sources like Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Hubble Space Telescope, and NASA's Chandra X-Ray satellite. It integrates Maps API to create different versions of the night sky, too. Students can browse one of the galleries at the bottom of the screen and click on thumbnail images to see a photo on the map with an informational pop-up. The Constellations button maps patterns among the stars. Backyard Astronomy has images of some galaxies, but nothing more.

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Curious and colorful objects set against the dark expanse of space invite exploration. Kids can use the search box to find stuff like planets or stars, and then drag and zoom around. But use the star map to zoom in, and objects become bigger and fuzzier. If that's not a buzzkill, consider the message "no imagery available at this zoom level." For different views, click the infrared, microwave, and historical layers -- one at a time or all at once. Kids also can explore showcases listed at the bottom of the page; the Chandra X-Ray, GALEX Ultraviolet, Spitzer Infrared, and Hubble Space Telescope are the most useful as they display images and information right on the map.

Young children learning about celestial objects will enjoy the images, but high school kids will better understand the text. However, the text is out of date. In 2008, we surmise, Google created Google Sky and then stopped paying attention to it. Sky-gazing podcasts from Earth & Sky stop in March of that year, and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey is now on its third iteration since 2008.

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Overall Rating
2

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
3

Images from satellites, space surveys, and the Hubble telescope engage kids with the colorful and unexpected nature of space.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?
2

Objects have identifying information, but there are no tools to personalize the night sky and no activities. Kids can explore independently, but the zoom feature reveals little about objects of interest.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?
3

A short video demonstrates Google Sky’s features. Podcasts cover topics like the search for life and the Orion Nebula, but some podcasts are several years old.


Teacher Reviews

4
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Featured review by
Barry K. , Technology coordinator
Technology coordinator
Hathaway Brown High School
Shaker Heights, OH
4
Google Earth Takes on the Universe

<p>Google Sky is the space version of Google’s Earth application. Simply put, it allows users to view a set of images from space. Rather than browsing across town in Google Earth, students can peruse the “street-view” of the universe, visiting planets and space objects far off in the galaxy. The images displayed are a compilation of pictures from NASA satellites, the Hubble Telescope, and a few other sources. The value of the Google Sky application (available both as a standalone application as a part of the free Google Earth download or as a web-based version at http://www.google.com/sky/) is that all of this information is compiled into one easy-to-use tool. Moving from one galaxy to the next is as easy as dragging your mouse and clicking. Google recently added access to the Slooh Space Camera where students can view live space footage through a telescope via the application. Google Sky would fit within any classroom where students are learning astronomy or studying the Ancient constellations. Integrated into the application are links to other web-based astronomy resources from photos to podcasts. Google Sky is a one-stop shop for all of your astronomical investigations.</p>

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