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It is humiliating to consider that not so long ago we could only speculate about the nature of the celestial bodies in the night sky. We’ve come a long way since then, but that has only served to further incite our curiosity about the final frontier.
Fortunately, the increasing accessibility of technical advancements puts a wealth of knowledge at the fingertips of even the most casual astronomer. It’s no wonder that even our mobile devices can function as rudimentary observatories.
There are many great mobile apps for aspiring astronomers. They mainly focus on giving you information about cosmic bodies. However, some focus on specific characteristics more than others. Here are some great options that can serve as a starting point in your search for the perfect stargazing app.
The SkyView app is available on the Android and iOS platforms in their respective app stores. There is a paid version and a free version with fewer features, but you won’t compromise too much if you opt for the free one. The free version was still good enough to deserve a Google Editor’s Choice Award.
Skyview has a very streamlined and intuitive interface and is a great option for both beginners and veterans alike. Simply point the camera in the direction of the object you want to see to get more information.
Skyview features include night mode, sky paths to track objects across the sky, and time travel. Time travel is particularly interesting as it allows you to see what a particular piece of the sky looked like at an earlier date or what it will look like in the future.
SkyView is also compatible with Space Navigator binoculars, application-enhanced binoculars that help you find satellites and other bodies that are difficult to detect with the naked eye. Overall, this app should have everything you need in an affordable package.
Here’s another cross-platform option with a ton of features. You can get it from Google Play or Apple App Store.
The application is more geared towards the advanced user. There is a lot of terminology and functionality that will be either irrelevant or overlooked by novice users. So if you are serious about stargazing, you should give this app a try. There are four different versions, from the free one that gives access to a reasonable amount of functions and data, to SkySafari 6 Pro.
The Professional version of the application is a powerhouse by any standard. It supports AR visualization of the sky, has a database with every comet and asteroid ever discovered, and even pronunciation guides for the names of celestial objects. Perhaps most impressive, SkySafari Pro supports mobile telescope control via its patent-pending WiFi-to-serial adapter. At $ 26.99, it’s a bit pricey, but it really puts a lot of other similar apps to shame.
Of the apps on this list, StarWalk is probably the most attractive. It has a beautiful interface and all designations and graphics are embedded in the sky for aesthetic consistency. There is even serene background music to accompany your stargazing. However, that’s just the facade. The interior is equally impressive.
You can search for a particular planet or object with voice commands. The free version has advertising, but there is also a paid version without advertising and with a much larger database. In SkyWalk 2 you can also search for meteor showers in specific areas, as well as other predictable astronomical events.
Both the free and paid versions are available on the Play Store and the App Store.
Map of the stars
If you want a truly personalized experience, this is the app you are looking for. It’s a free app, with an astronomical (ha ha) amount of features available as in-app purchases. The basic version is still quite powerful and the preferred choice of millions of stargazers. All the usual suspects are there. You can search around the sky by pointing or sliding your finger on the screen, and view information about objects by touching them.
A standout feature of this app is that it uses constellation illustrations by John Hevellius. Hevellius was a 17th century astronomer known for his exquisite artistic renderings of constellations. Star Chart is available on Android and iOS.
Somewhere, something amazing is waiting to be known
The time of physical star charts and atlases is long gone. For better or for worse, the march of technology continues unabated. The ease of access to information has aroused growing interest in many fields, and astronomy is undoubtedly one of them.
If you are just starting your journey through the stars, the best way to start is to try one of the apps listed above.
What was the first thing that sparked your fascination with the night sky and how far do you want to go? If the next Isaac Newton is available today, let us know in the comments below.
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