Mobile star maps, astronomy aids and other apps can bring a bit of that wonder down to earth and right into the palm of your hand. And with a pair of major astronomical events happening this weekend — there's a total lunar eclipse occurring today (July 27) and Mars will be at its closest point to the Earth since 2003 — now's the time to download apps that can help you with your star-gazing.
Check out 15 of the best space-watching apps for your Android or iOS device.
For more coverage of stars and space, check out our sister site Space.com. (Image Credit: Jassada Watt/Shutterstock)
Terminal Eleven's SkyView (Android, iOS) gives you a good idea of what to expect for good all-in-one stargazing and sky guide apps. SkyView uses your phone's screen and sensors to give you an augmented reality view of what's up in the sky. Users can turn their smartphones and tablets into AR viewfinders for identifying stars, planets and constellations; the app can display an object's track in the sky as well as information on select objects, planets, and satellites. SkyView also includes a "time travel" feature that allows you to view the sky as it would have appeared in the past, or will appear in the future, based on what we know of each object's movements.
Night Sky on iOS is another gorgeous app that takes full advantage of Apple's push for AR apps to deliver a really nice-looking augmented reality sky map. Users can view thousands of stars, satellites, planets and constellations; Night Sky takes things further with Apple Watch support that brings the sky map down to your wrist. Users can hold up the Apple Watch to identify objects in the sky, or look down to view a "celestial compass" that gives an overview of objects visible tonight. A new addition with the introduction of ARKit in iOS 11 last year is the AR Grand Orrery that displays a virtual model of the solar system that you can circle around and view.
SkySafari has long provided excellent sky guide apps for amateurs and professionals alike, and the latest version of this flagship app has taken a freemium approach. The new version offers up a rich offline database of stars, planets, and other celestial objects that you can view on an AR star chart, complete with animated visualizations and info about the history, mythology and science behind these celestial objects. The $2.99 Cosmos Collection in-app purchase unlocks additional features such as narrated tours of the heavens, orbit mode and galaxy view. Even more advanced versions, SkySafari Plus and SkySafari Pro, include an expanded database and more features such as support for WiFi-controlled telescopes. Android users can still turn to the older Sky Safari 5.
Pocket Universe is another great all-in-one sky watching app that provides both a portable sky map as well as a wealth of extras like augmented reality modes. Users can view a map of the sky above, complete with labels and constellations, as well as track individual objects and planets (with a "show me" mode to guide your aim). An augmented reality orrery lets you view the solar system in your own living room, and the app includes extra activities and resources like quizzes and Wikipedia links to various objects.
Cosmic Watch (Android, iOS) does more than just tell you the time. The app provides users with a slick mobile planetarium and AR sky guide depicting the planets, stars, and constellations. The sky guide view has numerous layers that you can toggle on or off, such as constellations and star names, a sky gradient, and coordinate guide lines. You can view the night sky as it is right now, or use the time machine feature to see the sky in the past or future. You can also turn things around with a 3D view of the globe or a geocentric or heliocentric view of the solar system. Cosmic Watch also happens to be pretty good at telling the time, in case that's useful to you.
Formerly a Google project that's gone open source, Sky Map is a neat augmented reality app that turns your smartphone or tablet into a mobile planetarium. Sky Map uses your phone's many sensors to calculate your geographical position and then display a detailed star map based on where your device is pointed. The map includes the constellations, the names of stars and planets, and makes for a great companion app for stargazers. A night mode ensures your low light vision doesn't get ruined, and a time travel feature lets you view the sky as it looked in the past, or as it will be in the future.
Vito Technologies' Star Walk 2 (Android, iOS) is an augmented reality star chart that displays the stars and planets in the heavens above you. In addition, the app includes detailed information on the history and mythology of the various constellations, stars and planets, as well as a coordinates viewer for easy reference. A Time Machine slider lets you view the skies of the past or the future, and you can tap on individual objects for more details. A night mode allows you to stargaze without burning out your night vision, and an augmented reality view overlays the star chart over your camera view.