Common Sense Review
Updated February 2013

Google Sky

Space map captivates with celestial images but needs an update
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Common Sense Rating 2
Teacher Rating (1 Teacher Review) 4
  • Showcases along the bottom of the screen provide the best images and most information.
  • An image from the Hubble Showcase pasted onto the night sky; its pop-up information leads to a third-party source for more.
  • Extreme zoom on an interesting object – but what is it? Google Sky won’t tell you.
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The lack of context and out-of-date information loses kids and teachers fast.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.
Michelle Kitt
Common Sense Reviewer
Common Sense 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.

About our ratings and privacy evaluation.
How Can Teachers Use It?

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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What's It Like?

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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Is It Good For Learning?

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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