Planetarium apps show you exactly what you’re looking at in the night sky, but some are a lot more impressive than others
1 – Star Walk 2
Available for phones and tablets, this amazingly designed app for iOS and Android’s highlight is the Sky Live page that gives at-a-glance rise and set times for planets and the Moon. We also love the easy to use travel mode. Just touch the clock in the top-right corner then drag a finger up the side of the screen and the night sky goes into fast-forward, at any speed you desire. That’s useful for planning observing sessions. The only downside is that information on constellations, deep sky objects, planets and satellites is an in-app purchase.
2 – Stellarium Mobile Sky Map
Just for phones (iOS and Android), this simple planetarium app from the creators of the original and free Stellarium computer software is has a great section on the star-lore of cultures including the Inuit, Navajo and Aztec. It’s also very easy to use. It shows you what your naked eye will see, and there’s also a light pollution adjuster to make it even more realistic. Large icons across the bottom of the screen bring overlays for constellation lines, and there are even equatorial and azimuthal grids for amateur astronomers. There’s also an easy-to-reach red light mode (to save your night vision).
3 – Sky Safari 5 Pro
Hugely expensive, this app can remotely control GoTo telescopes from the likes of Celestron, Meade, Orion, SkyWatcher, and any ‘scope with a RS-232 interface. However, doing so does mean you have to buy an adaptor; SkyFi (for WiFi, £299), SkyBT (for Bluetooth, £129) or SkyWire (tethered to a phone or tablet, £59) attach to the serial port of a telescope, which can then be targeted using the app. However, behind that unusual functionality there’s a peerless planetarium app. Crreate observing lists, check celestial coordinates, get ISS/Iridium satellite notifications, view images from the Digitized Sky Survey … it’s all here. The downside is that it takes almost 2GB on a phone or tablet.
4 – GoSkyWatch Planetarium
Just for iOS devices – iPhones and iPads – this app shows bright stars only, but has an unusual targeting system that makes it easy to use. A voice announce that you’ve found a planet, but rather unusually it lets you decide whether Pluto is a planet … there’s even a ‘Pluto is Planet’ YES/NO toggle switch in the settings. There’s a free version of this app with adverts.
5 – Heavens-Above
An app only for Android phones, this app is all about locating man-made objects in the night skies. It deals in overhead passings of the ISS (which is SO bright, you wont believe it!) and other satellites, including Iridium flares – when the telecoms satellites’ solar panels glint just after sunlight. It uses a prediction engine to make calculations specific to your GPS position, producing a list of events visible that night, as well as a dedicated section for each genre of object.