There are Some Remarkable Apps for Wireless Devices that Allow You to Hold Your Smartphone or Pad to the Sky and Identify Celestial Objects in Real-Time from Anywhere on the Planet.
It's magic. Imagine holding your smartphone or a Pad device to the sky and not only seeing clear identification of celestial objects and events, but actually tracking as you move your wireless device from horizon to horizon. In fact, if you point it at your feet it will show you what is in the sky on the other side of the earth. It's remarkable stuff and many of these apps are very inexpensive. Some are even free.
Some not only tell you what's in the sky, but a click on the object will give you a virtual animation of the star or planet or moon in living, moving color with many of the scientific parameters known to date about the object. That's fantastic stuff for looking at stars. They all look like points of white light, but a deeper dive on some of these apps will show you they are blue, or red or orange or white or actually galaxies.
These apps are also valuable for identifying constellations. This gives you a map for the skies for observing everything from meteor showers to finding a deep-space object or a specific star or cluster. What's critical is that most engage your GPS (Global Position System) to triangulate your position and give you an interactive view of the sky in real-time.
Here are 5 popular apps for the most widely used devices. There are more and no doubt, more will come. If you're looking for the best one for your particular device you can start here and explore more with little expense.
1. Star Walk £1.99 ($2.99 USD)
StarWalk features a Digital Compass and the sky above you will appear on your screen. Most importantly, you can explore any part of the sky with a tap on the screen. You can also see moon phases in real time, while exploring facts and information on constellations and planets. It features an augmented reality mode that will take the actual camera image of the sky and overlay the information on top of it. You can even track forward or backwards in time to see how the stars and planets will look. A very nice app designed for amateur star gazers but will pleasantly surprise professional astronomers too with its database of around 250,000 objects.
2. GoSkyWatch Planetarium for iPad - the astronomy star guide (free)
Similar to Sky Walk although deep-dive detail a little less robust. This app can display the correct orientation of the sky when held at any angle, not just vertical and horizontal. It is simplified by having no buttons or modes to press. You can just point at the sky and start to find objects of interest. The website says that this app will also work with iPod Touch and older iPhones that don’t have a compass.
3. SkySafari (£1.99, Plus £10.49, Pro £27.99)
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SkySafari is currently in its 4th edition. This app comes in three versions. The basic costs £1.99 and offers around 119,000 stars and 220 deep sky objects to find. It includes comets, asteroids and satellites and allows you to travel 100 years into the past or future. Many images are courtesy of NASA’s spacecraft. It also uses your compass and GPS in your device to track what is above you. The Plus version increases the database to 2.6 million stars and 31,000 deep space objects. This version also allows you to link your Goto telescope to your device to control the telescope. The Pro version has the same features as previous editions but this time the database is huge. This version boasts 27 million stars, 740,000 deep space objects (down to magnitude 18) and 620,000 solar system objects. You can travel up to a million years into the past or future. This is an excellent app that offers something for casual stargazers down to serious astronomers.
4. Concentric Sky (Free)
Nothing beats "free" and this app delivers. Great shots and photos although lacking the real-time GPS capability of others. An "everyone" download. Great pictures and a fun way to track what's new or what's really, really old. This app was developed with NASA and offers the Astronomy Picture of the Day. The app has decade’s worth of space photos from NASA to flip through.
5. Google SkyMap (Free)
According to Google: Sky Map uses layers similar to those of Google Earth. Tap the screen to bring up the layers and other on-screen controls. A menu to the left displays the layers for stars, constellations, Messier objects, planets, grid lines, and the horizon line, and you can toggle any or all of them on or off. There are also zoom controls and an option to switch between automatic and manual navigation modes. Auto navigation (the app's default mode) works with your phone's sensors to show you a map of the sky based on the angle and direction at which you're holding your phone. In manual mode, you scroll through the map of the sky from your location using your finger on the touch screen.
There are numerous other apps designed for a range of devices. A different one may be better for your needs but these 5 are a good place to start. Keep watching the skies.
Here is another app review, Meteor Shower Guide app.
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