There’s a Star Gazing App for That

by Dave Skitt

While training new keyholders, I am often asked to provide the names for the various astronomy related apps that I use or am familiar with. Below are the apps I have on either my iPhone 7 or iPad Mini 2. I cannot be sure if there are similarly named apps by the same developers in the Android environment since I only have iOS devices (sorry!). Typically, I would begin with the free version of the app, if offered, and eventually purchase the full version. Some are really good tools that I use frequently; others I have because they are good references or others have talked about them.

For general astronomy/planetarium/planisphere type apps, I have the following:

SkySafari 5 (various $)
This is a really great app that has three paid levels of its current version, SkySafari 5 (before 5, there was 4 and 3, etc.). The three levels are: SkySafari 5 (Basic) (~$3), SkySafari 5 Plus (~$15) and SkySafari 5 Pro (~$30). It is put out by Simulation Curriculum which also makes SkyPortal, a free app written specifically for Celestron that can connect to and run some of the Celestron go-to telescopes. SkyPortal is similar to, but has less content and feature rich variation of the Basic SkySafari 5 level. The Basic SkySafari app is fine, but it cannot run any go-to telescopes, Celestron or otherwise. The SkySafari 5 Plus level has a lot of good content and features and can run many go-to telescopes, if you eventually go that route and have the proper direct connect cable or a Wi-Fi module for the telescope. The SkySafari 5 Pro level has a ton of content and can run many telescopes, but much of what’s in the database is beyond what most telescopes can see from earth (not that there is anything wrong with that). The Pro level is a very large app, however, that takes up a lot of space on your device. One other downside for any of the SkySafari products is that if you buy one of the three levels, there is no “free upgrade” to the next higher level. You must pay for each level separately (app updates within the levels are free, however). This also applies if Simulation Curriculum eventually comes out with a newer ‘version’ (like SkySafari 6, for example). You’ll have to pay again for whichever level of the newer version you want. But it is such good app that I have never regretted supporting the developer with my many purchases.

Orion Star Seek 5 (~$15)
I have an earlier version of this app (Orion Star Seek 3) which was practically the same app as the prior SkySafari 3 Plus. I would imagine this app is similar to SkySafari 5 Plus, but I haven’t used it.

Luminos (~$20)
This is another really great astronomy app similar to SkySafari 5 Plus/Pro. It can run telescopes and has a lot of really good features and content. I flip between this app and SkySafari 5 frequently.

TheSky HD (~$30)
This is put out by Software Bisque, the makers of the Paramount ME telescope mounts in our observatory and the software that runs them (The Sky6 and The SkyX). I do not have this app so I can’t comment on it. It seems to have gotten mixed reviews. Software Bisque also puts out a nifty app called Gas Giants, which shows the planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune and the position of their visible moons. I have the Gas Giants app and really like it.

Stellarium (~$3)
This app is similar to the free, PC/Mac computer software by the same name. The PC/Mac version is open source software which gets updated often. I really learned a lot about what’s up in the sky just by using the computer software when I got started in this hobby. The computer software can also connect via cable to many go-to telescopes and act as a hand controller replacement. I did this with my Celestron Nexstar 8SE before graduating to using SkySafari and an iPad via Wi-Fi.

Pocket Universe (PUniverseX) (~$3)
I just recently found this really good starter app. Lots of really cool stuff in here.
Other good general astronomy/planetarium/planisphere type apps that I use off and on are the following: SkyView, GoSkyWatch, Sky Live, Star Walk 2, Solar Walk 2, Star Chart, Astro Sky, Astro Plan, Starmap 3D+, ShowSky, Star Rover, Starglobe, Distant Suns, and Star Tracker HD.

For Moon and planet specific apps, I have the following: Gas Giants, Saturn Moons, Jupiter Moons, MoonGlobeHD, MarsGlobeHD, MoonPhases, Moon+, Moon Tours, Jupiter Facts, Mars Facts, Mercury Facts, Venus Facts, Pluto Safari, Luna Solaria, Your Weight on Planets, Solar System and Exoplanet.

For Sun specific apps, I have the following: SDO, SoHo, SunViewer, Aurora Fcst (forecast), Aurora (two different apps; I don’t know how to distinguish the two but one is iPad and one is iPhone), SolarTrack, SunFacts! and Touch the Sun. A very useful app that shows the difference between civil, nautical and astronomical daylight, twilight and night time is called DayLight.

For Deep Space objects, I have the following: Ad Astra and Star Atlas are two, fixed (paper-like) star chart apps that show deep space objects. Other apps are NGC List, DS Browser, Messier Ma. (Messier Marathon) and Nearest Stars.

For comets/meteors/asteroids, I have the following: Meteor Shower Calendar, ams (American Meteor Society) and AsteroidAlert.

For Satellite and/or ISS tracking, I have the following: Satellite Safari, Sputnik!, ISS Spotter, ISS Finder, pxSat, Satellites, ISS Live!, GoISSWatch and Earthlapse.

For space and/or space flight news, I have the following: SkyWeek+, NASA, NASA Viz, Universe Today, Portal to the Universe, ESA (European Space Agency) and What’s Up At Wallops.

For weather apps, I have the following: Weather Channel, WeatherBug, eWeather HD, MyRadar Pro, Hi-Def Radar, Radar HD, NOAA Weather Radar and AccuWeather. For astronomy specific weather forecasts, I have myCSC, iCSC and Scope Nights. Typically, I set up the radar views differently across the various weather apps as one may show cloud cover or the wind patterns better than the others while and one may show more detailed precipitation patterns, etc. You get the idea.

As the number of astronomy related websites is astronomically huge, here are a few that I visit: SpaceFlightInsider.com, Space.com, Spaceweather.com, EarthSky.org, Heavens-Above.com and UniverseToday.com.

If you find a really cool app or website, shoot me an email at Observatory@Princetonastronomy.org; I still have a little bit of space left on my iPad.

Happy star gazing app hunting…

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This entry was posted in March 2017, Sidereal Times and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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