There is something special about the word billions. Maybe we're just being sentimental, remembering the way Carl Sagan used to say it, or maybe it's just a really big, impressive number. A billion is so big a number that's it's difficult, if not impossible, for most people to visualize. You’ll often find it described via some absurd analogy like: a billion dollar bills stacked vertically would reach 109km tall—that’s a few kilometers above the Kármán line, the generally accepted boundary of space.
At large quantities, our brains seem to lose their ability to visualize and simply default to lots. Our home galaxy, the Milky Way, is thought to harbor some hundreds of billions of stars, which is, depending on your personality, somewhere between lots and awesome. We, of course, use the latter word in its original, non-slang meaning:
Awesome [aw-suh m] adjective. 1) Causing or inducing awe; inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear.
Minus that whole fear part—don't be scared!—our goal with Sky Guide has always been to instill a sense of awe and we believe one of the ways to achieve that is to demonstrate the tremendous quantities of star-stuff out there in the universe. In other words, when you directly see and interact with billions of stars, the abstract idea of their numbers gives way to the experience.
In practice, however, there is a problem with achieving that because displaying a ton of star-stuff in a mobile app is really tricky. More stars displayed equals more computation and, despite the ever-impressive advances in mobile graphics processing power, that can significantly impact performance and harm the user experience. Frame drops and loading lag? Not awesome! So it is with much care, caution and enthusiasm that we jam as many stars into the app as possible.
And jam, we have. Version 6.7 turns up the awesome-dial for SUPERMASSIVE subscribers, who will now see 1.7 billion stars in Sky Guide. This is thanks to incorporating the latest star catalog from the European Space Agency's groundbreaking Gaia mission. When you launch Sky Guide, the new catalog will download and replace the old catalog. No additional storage over the standard SUPERMASSIVE requirement of 1GB is required since the additional stars are streamed from the cloud.
So how does version 6.7 SUPERMASSIVE stack up to the previous SUPERMASSIVE? Look at these before and after images to judge for yourself.
Now is a great time to check out SUPERMASSIVE if you haven't yet done so. We offer a free two-week trial so you can take it for a spin and see if it's worth the annual cost ($19.99 in the U.S. and varies by country).
As always, happy stargazing!