When you look up at the starry sky on a clear night, it’s hard not to be in awe of the vastness of outer space. Whether you’re a veteran astronomer or brand new to the art of stargazing, there’s always something new to learn about the “final frontier”, and with the help of smartphone apps, we now have a bevy powerful tools to help us discover more about our amazing universe.
Below are the best stargazing apps for iPhone and Android devices to help you explore the many fascinating features of outer space.
Best Stargazing Apps for Android
There is perhaps no more fitting organisation on the planet to publish a proper stargazing app than NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration), and they’ve done just that with their latest Android application.
This easily navigable app is chock full of the most recent photographs, videos, news, tweets, feature stories, mission information, and more from NASA’s headquarters. The layout of the app is simple and intuitive, with a 9-square grid on the home screen of the application.
Each tile in the grid represents a particular category of content, enabling you to select whatever you’re interested in with a simple screen tap – no complicated breadcrumb trails. Their photos of deep space could be considered standalone works of art, and fortunately, they’ve made these beautiful images available for download as a background for your mobile device.
The NASA app also includes cool updates such as information about the next launches, and countdown clocks to help you get ready for them. If you discover something that you really want to share with your friends via your favourite social media site, you can do so by simply tapping a button within the app.
Overall, this is one of the most comprehensive apps for stargazers to enjoy, and it’s coming from one of the most authoritative sources you could hope for.
Formerly known as Google Sky Map, this is the latest iteration of Google’s online sky and space viewing application that originated in 2012.
Upon downloading the app, it’s a good idea to calibrate the compass that’s in your phone to ensure that it will operate in lockstep with the application. Sky Map will help you do this in a simple 3-step process, so that you can be good to go in a matter of seconds.
Once you’ve completed the calibration process, all you have to do is point your mobile device skyward – it doesn’t matter which direction – and the app will begin to fill you in on what type of celestial bodies your phone is aiming at.
You can also use the in-app search function to find out the location of a particular planet, star, etc. in relation to where you’re currently standing.
Once you type in your search term, an arrow will pop up on the screen to let you know which way you need to look to see the object. Sky Map can be downloaded for free in the Google Play app store, and you won’t have to worry about any monetised content locking or in-app purchases.
One of the coolest augmented reality stargazing apps on the market is Star Chart, which utilises the compass and GPS capability of your smartphone to help ascertain your current location, and then shows you the night sky as if you’re looking through an extremely high-powered telescope.
Its compass calibration functionality is a little more precise than that of Sky Map, which means that you won’t have to keep tilting your mobile device in all kinds of different directions in order to keep the app working properly.
One of the most useful features of this app is that it has image overlays for the constellations, which really helps you to see why they’re named the way they are.
If you’re like me, it’s a little difficult to play “connect the dots” with all of those stars out there in space, so the image overlay feature really comes in handy when you’re trying to identify a particular constellation. This app does come with in-app purchases, but for the avid stargazer, Star Chart is a must-have.
Best Stargazing Apps for iPhone/iPad iOS
This app is primarily focused on the planets that comprise our solar system, and it empowers the user to go on a planet-hopping adventure if they so choose. It features smart visuals, but at times it can get a little trigger-happy with the zoom feature. The planets are rendered in exquisite detail, which helps to remind you of the beauty of the celestial world.
There are information pages that provide outstanding infographics, with cool facts and figures to help the user gain a greater understanding of how the other planets in the solar system compare to Earth in terms of size, gravity, volume, distance from the sun, etc.
You can also “crack” each planet open to discover its internal structure (which I still don’t understand how they can figure these things out), and for a nominal in-app fee, you can “hitch your wagon to the stars” and speed through space on the tail of a comet, or aboard a celestial satellite.
While it doesn’t have the smoothest navigation out there, Solar Walk is still an excellent app to add to your stargazing arsenal.
Sky Guide is one of the most popular apps in the Apple Store for exploring the night sky. Using this feature-rich app, you can basically wave your iPhone about as you wish, and no matter where you point it, you will almost always discover some type of significant celestial body to find out more about.
The artwork and aesthetics of the app are top-notch, and the app features ambient music that actually adds to the stargazing experience instead of ruining it.
The controls are pretty much intuitive – drag to scroll, pinch to zoom, tap to select, etc. – and when you select an item, an info screen will pop up containing all kinds of fun facts, specs and details about the celestial body in question.
You can also set the app to view how the sky looked on a specific date (this is just plain cool), and you can create beautiful star trails by leveraging the app’s 30,000x speed feature.
Exoplanets are defined as any planet that orbits a star residing outside of our solar system. The Exoplanet app delves full-speed into this fascinating subject matter, offering a colourful and thrilling tour de force of the universe beyond our own fiery ball of gas and its eight planetary satellites.
When you zoom out, you can see red lines linking our Sun to the many exoplanets out there in the distant regions, and you can also observe how those exoplanets orbit their parent stars.
The database provided in the Exoplanet app is a fantastic repository of information for all kinds of exoplanet facts, trivia, size comparisons, statistics, and other fun tidbits that can keep you occupied for hours on end.
Now that you’ve got these excellent apps at your disposal, no doubt you’ll be eager to test them out once night falls. Just remember to use your newfound powers for good, and not evil.