7 Stargazing Apps to Spot Constellations and More
Stargazing with a friend or partner is a relaxing nighttime activity. But if you want to relax under dark skies and watch the stars, how will you know where to look? Or what do you see? If you want to observe celestial bodies and star clusters visible in clear night skies, you should consider downloading a stargazing app. The best stargazing apps can give you a better map of the sky and more detail about what you’re seeing.
My husband and I are far enough out in the countryside to see stars, but we didn’t completely escape the city’s light pollution. Every once in a while, before heading home for the night, we’ll step out onto the back porch if the sky is clear and look up. We saw a shockingly bright Venus, the ISS footage and a few shooting stars – thanks in part to the help of some astronomy apps. If you want to take a look at some of the best stargazing app options, read on. These apps should help you spot planets, stars, and constellations – and some of them have a free version.
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Google Sky/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET
Google Sky lets you explore the outer reaches of space through the “eyes” of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and the Digitized Sky Survey. You can explore the wealth of information available for free on mobile or desktop.
Click on the tray at the bottom of the screen to learn more about the solar system, constellations, galaxies and nebulae, X-ray, ultraviolet and infrared views of the universe. You can also use slide bars to see drawings of the sky by Giovanni Maria Cassini.
Additionally, find where the planets are in the sky at any given time by typing a planet’s name in the search field.
SkySafari/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET
The SkySafari astronomy app, which starts at $2 on iOS and free on Android, lets you hold your phone up to the sky to identify planets, constellations, stars and satellites. You can also use the app to see what the sky looked like thousands of years ago or what it will look like in the future.
Simulate past meteor showers, approaching comets, and celestial events, such as eclipses. SkySafari also has a constellation artwork overlay feature in case you can’t quite visualize the lion or bear everyone claims to see. The app also offers information on history, mythology and science to accompany the images.
If you’re not sure where to start, you can tap Tonight’s Best in the app to check which object in the sky you might see best.
StarTracker/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET
The Star Tracker app works on iOS (lite) and Android to show you 88 constellations, over 8,000 deep sky objects, plus the sun, moon and planets, all in real time. The application uses a 3D compass in AR mode which indicates the position of the objects you have searched for. Think of it as a mobile planetarium.
To enhance the constellations, Star Tracker has a chart function for the 12 zodiac signs and six famous deep sky objects.
The app is free, but there is a full version with more features for $3 and an ad-free version for $1. In addition, Star Tracker Pro offers a Time Machine function and a night mode.
The International Space Station (ISS) app, available for free on iOS and Android, doesn’t technically show you the stars, but you can check out the planets and the ISS itself. The app tracks the lab’s current location in space above the world at any given time.
Once you’ve logged your location – the only permission the app asks for – it can tell you how often you can expect to see the ISS in the sky. For example, residents of Louisville, Ky., will typically be able to see the ISS between about 7:57 p.m. and 9:37 p.m. each night for about 30 seconds to a minute and a half. It’s a fleeting window – the ISS is moving at around 17,100 miles per hour.
The app also keeps track of the time until the ISS passes over your location again and how long it will be visible. On average, the ISS appears to be visible in a given area once or twice a day over the course of a week.
Skyview/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET
The Skyview app costs $3 on iOS and $2 on Android, but both platforms have a free lite version. To use Skyview, all you have to do is point your device at the sky and you can start identifying galaxies, stars, constellations, planets, and even the International Space Station. The application has a night mode and an AR function, so you can comfortably use it at any time.
The app’s Sky Path feature lets you track objects in space to see exact locations at any date and time. Additionally, Skyview offers a time travel option to observe what the sky looked like in the past and might look like in the future.
NASA/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET
No home space adventure is complete without the free official NASA app, which you can download for iOS or Android. While you technically can’t use the app for stargazing in the same vein as some of the others on this list, you can still get closer to space.
Discover a photo library with thousands of constantly updated images and watch NASA TV live. Additionally, the app features agency-wide on-demand videos and live streaming of the high-definition Earth viewing experience on the ISS.
The app also keeps you up to date with NASA missions, launch information, upcoming sightings, agency news and tweets.
Star Walk 2/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET
Star Walk $2.3 for iOS and free for Android with in-app purchases, uses your phone’s sensors and GPS to show you a real-time map of the night sky, showing the location of stars, planets, constellations , comets, ISS and satellites.
Like SkySafari, you can tap Visible Tonight if you’re not sure where to start. The feature will tell you all upcoming astronomical events and visible celestial objects for your location. The What’s New section will also keep you informed of upcoming events. You can also view the astronomical calendar or tap the clock face icon to select any date and time and watch the sky of different periods.
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