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TESS Data Expected in 2018

The Q1 2018 update will be the last data update before NASA’s TESS revolutionizes our knowledge of nearby solar systems. TESS is scheduled to launch in March 2018, but rather than examining far-distant stars as Kepler has done, TESS will examine nearby stars for transiting exoplanets, potentially discovering many thousands of planetary systems among near-Earth stars. With a target catalog of hundreds of thousands of stars, TESS will examine not just the nearest few thousand stars included in the Near Star Map, but stars well beyond this tool’s limited range. As Kepler has demonstrated, where we look for planets, we find them.

near star map logo

As data from TESS becomes available in the public domain, the Near Star Map will be updated to include the new discoveries. We expect the number of nearby solar systems to rapidly leap from the approximately 60 presently included in the map to several hundred, and perhaps many more, among our sun’s nearest neighbors.

The neighborhood is about to get crowded.

Trappist-1 in 1.3.2 NSM Update

Near Star Map version 1.3.2 went live on Google Play and the Amazon Android App Store in March. Obviously, the hot exoplanet news this time around is the exciting Trappist-1 system, with seven small terrestrial worlds in tight orbits around an M-class red dwarf. Several of these planets may be in the star’s habitable zone!

near star map logo

This news shouldn’t be allowed to eclipse the other exoplanet update – an earth-sized world orbiting Proxima Centauri! It’s probably too hot for life, but if there’s one, there may be more, and a system at the nearest star to our own will someday be a priority target for our first interstellar missions.

After news like that, the forty or so additional dim systems added to the database are almost a yawn. Check out the newly reported exoplanet systems in the Near Star Map today!

NSM 1.3 Update Released

Near Star Map version 1.3 is now available on Google Play and the Amazon Android App Store. Aside from some routine data updates, this version introduces a new exoplanet system diagrams feature.
near star map logo

When selecting a star system believed to have exoplanets, the user now has the option to view a diagram comparing the exoplanet system with a scale diagram of our own solar system. The data backing these diagrams will be updated in the same semi-annual (March and September) updates used to keep the stellar database current.

Below is an example of the Epsilon Eridani system based on current data.
planets sample diagram

We currently think Epsilon Eridani has a gas giant near an asteroid belt about as far from the star as our own asteroid belt, another asteroid belt about as far out as Uranus, and another gas giant way out at Kuiper Belt distance.

Presently some sixty solar systems with up to several planets each are suspected or confirmed among the 1200 or so stars within 50 light-years of Sol and hence in our database. Given discoveries by the Kepler mission since 2009 in a distant region of the sky, it can be assumed for practical purposes that nearly every star system in the database has planets that will eventually be detected as our technology and methods improve.

NSM Database Complete

For most definitions of complete! The v1.29 NSM database now has 1175 star entries, nearly triple the 400 or so the app began with. After numerous updates, the database now covers every star listed within 50 light-years of our solar system in the professional astronomy data resources used as source material. Some nearby stars haven’t been included if astronomers haven’t classified the spectrum yet.

When using the app, it’s easy to see that the more distant parts of the sphere don’t have as many dim M stars as the inner portions. It’s virtually certain that astronomers are still identifying dim stars that are close enough to be included, and estimates suggest there may be a few hundred more nearby stars that we just haven’t recognized yet.

Updates for the Near Star Map will now shift to a biannual schedule, in March and September, which should keep pace with current rates of exoplanet and stellar discoveries.

Q3 NSM has doubled the database

Last weekend I wrapped up the latest version of the Near Star Map. We’ve now got about twice the number of stars the database contained when it originally launched for Android, and there remain plenty of obscure dim stars between 35 and 50 light-years away to be added!
near star map logo

For this latest update, the search feature saw some improvements for clarification when well-known but distant stars are searched for, and a significant number of more distant brown dwarfs were added over and above the routine push to add more distant stars. Next quarter, if time permits, I’m interested in adding one of more features focused on exoplanets. At present, there are not quite 60 systems with confirmed exoplanets or exoplanet candidates within 50 light-years, and I’d like the Near Star Map to be able to more readily illustrate this.

NSM Released a Year Ago – Updated Again

At the end of June, the latest quarterly update of the Near Star Map was released, taking the database to nearly 700 nearby stars. The app was released for Android a year ago already, and there have been three quarterly updates since then. There’ve been well over 7200 downloads across all stores where the app is available, which is very gratifying. Thank you to everyone who has taken an interest in the map!

near star map logo

For the latest update, I also added a basic search function, allowing stars to be found if the name is known. Popular targets such as Epsilon Eridani, Vega, and Wolf 359 will thus be much easier to locate in the map, though I might offer a tip: “WISE 1049-5319” is worth a quick look, as earlier this year it was spotted as the third nearest star system to ours, for loose definitions of “star”. It’s a brown dwarf binary, and there appears to even be a lower-mass companion orbiting the more massive brown dwarf in the pair.

view of WISE 1049-5319

In the screenshot above, WISE 1049-5319 is centered, with nearby Alpha and Proxima Centauri large in the lower-right center. Sol is the relatively large yellow star near the right edge of the screen.

Math Prototype Diversion

I wanted to give my second-grader son a little extra arithmetic practice this summer, so instead of making a set of flash cards out of posterboard or index cards, last week I quickly slapped together a random addition, subtraction, and multiplication activity using the Rocket Rangers Preschool app as a test harness.


This arithmetic activity I prototyped will be one of several activities in a new Rocket Rangers Math project for K-3 students, which is still in the design stage. Design and more prototyping work will take place this summer, with my son acting as chief tester.

Yuri’s Night Special on Amazon

April 12 is Yuri’s Night – anniversary of the first manned spaceflight and a time to celebrate space exploration worldwide! Be sure to check your local planetarium or science museum for scheduled activities. Proxima Centauri Games is offering 25% off Rocket Rangers Preschool on the Amazon App Store for Yuri’s Night. Inspire your littlest space explorer!

rrp logo

NSM Q1 2014 Update Complete

The free Near Star Map for Android just received quarterly update #3. The new build has been pushed to Google Play, Amazon, and the Nook and will be available on all stores over the next few hours.
near star map logo

During April, the plan is to perform another phase of rapid prototyping on a series of projects, then select one for formal development during the rest of 2014. If you have an opinion about what on the list of planned projects should receive attention, please let us know!

Near Star Map Update in Progress

It’s quarterly update time again already for the free Near Star Map for Android, which has well over 5000 downloads across Google Play, Amazon, and the Nook.
near star map logo

For this update, we’re extending the database of bright and dim stars in ranges beyond 30 light-years from Earth, updating the exoplanet information for listed stars, and making some interface tweaks. We should easily have it wrapped up and available in app stores by the end of the month and be on to other projects!


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