“So I have this app where I can just point my phone…” Let me stop you right there! You’re not impressing me. Every self respecting astronomer or enthusiast has such an app, and there are hundreds of them out there to choose from!
There are a ton of stargazing apps that include artistic overlays and outlines for the constellations, and I agree they’re very useful. Any good stargazing app will give you the correct information as long as you have it set to your correct coordinates, plus your date and time. Some are extremely detailed, others are very plain and casual looking, but as long as you understand what the app shows you, then it fulfills the purpose!
These are the apps that I personally use to aid in my astronomy adventures!
This one is available both as software you can download to your computer, and as an app you can have on your phone. I personally love using this one for the realistic simulation of what the night sky will look like.
The mobile version works great, and whether you’re using Augmented Reality. or doing everything manually, finding and identifying objects is easy. Selecting one gives you the coordinates of it, as well as basic things like its distance. The desktop/laptop version is super useful as both a planner and something to have around when needing a huge catalog of objects at the click of a mouse.
I can’t say enough about how much I enjoy Stellarium, as sometimes I find myself playing around with it when I’m not stargazing, as there are a ton of features that it offers. By all means, check it out!
Apple | Android
Whatever information I can’t get from Stellarium, I get from SkySafari.
The mobile app doesn’t have the “realistic” presentation, but it doesn’t have to. It’s still just as easy to find constellations, stars, and deep sky objects. But it also can help me find things that the mobile version of Stellarium can’t.
The “Search” tab includes many subcategories such as “Tonight’s Best,” and it lists all the deep sky objects for you. Virtually every object, whether it’s a planet, star, moon, or deep sky object has an “info button” you can tap, and many of them have full on detailed descriptions of the object in question. Besides the obvious traits like the distance, the brightness, and such, it will also talk about the history behind certain objects, even the mythology surrounding it! This is very handy to have if you have no network connection to google search!
Dark Sky Finder
Imagine your Google Maps app superimposed with light pollution data. This gives you a light pollution map on the go!
All the colors are categorized under the “Bortle Scale,” and it helps you figure out where the truly dark locations are, or how far you need to drive away from cities to get to them.
It also features some popular observing sites, and can give you directions on how to get to them.
The name can be misleading, as this isn’t a dark sky finder app per se, it’s more of a weather forecast app that will give you predictions on things like cloud cover, humidity, and wind over the desired location.
There have been times where your standard weather apps, even iCSC predicted wrong, but this predicted right.
While this is just one of several “Astronomy weather apps” I use, it never hurts to have more than one to check for consistencies!
iCSC: Clear Sky Chart Viewer
This is another key astronomy weather app to have. This gives you up to 48 hours of an expected forecast for the desired location.
All of the data from the listed sites comes from cleardarksky.com, and it will give you a detailed chart on all the things astronomers look for in a weather forecast such as expected cloud cover, transparency, seeing conditions, wind & humidity, plus the temperature. You can check out their website for an explanation on the display legend.
One big downside however is it doesn’t account for low fog or marine layers, nor afternoon thunderstorms. Most of the time it’s correct, but it has been wrong!
Love observing the Moon and wish you had a map handy? Look no further!
This gives you a detailed map of the Moon’s surface. Every mare, crater, or mountain range both large and small is listed, and you can click on any of them to get detailed information such as their diameters in kilometers, and you can immediately be directed to a google search of the feature in question to get even more information on it.
While you can scan both the near side and far side of the Moon, this app has a feature where you can set it to “telescope mode” and thus it’ll always show the face you see from Earth, including the phase for the night. You can also flip the image to reflect how the Moon looks through your telescope, and it will still tell you which features are which.
You can also switch it to show where all the Apollo missions landed, plus where other American and Russian craft landed.
“Are there any planets out tonight?” I get asked this question all the time. If you’re a casual observer and only care about where the planets are, then this is the app for you.
There is a “globe” feature where you can use your fingers to play around with a virtual planet plus the Moon, but once that becomes old, you can still use it to tell you where the planets are visible in the sky. Whether it’s 2D or 3D, the basic constellation map helps you find the planets.
I mainly use it for the “visibility” tab, where it’ll tell me the rise and set times for the Sun, Moon, and all the other planets. Sometimes it’s handy to know these times, especially at an observatory where people always ask.
Good To Stargaze
This one is a new one for me. It’s another “Astronomy weather” forecast app, and essentially it’ll tell you if the conditions are ideal to observe the sky. Just like others, it predicts the seeing, the transparency, and the cloud cover; based on the criteria, it’ll either tell you “Good to Stargaze” or “Not Good To Stargaze.” You can go by the default criteria, or set your own based on your liking.
The free version also includes a light pollution map, and can give a 24 hour forecast to see if the conditions will improve or worsen. The subscription version allows you to save up to five locations, and can give a 7 day forecast.
It never hurts to have more than one app for stargazing or astronomy weather forecasts! If there is an app that you think I should check out, or one that you personally use, by all means leave a comment down below!
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