Best Stargazing Apps For Your Phone

Learn easy ways to understand the cosmos.

The deep night sky can be confusing and overwhelming if you don’t know what to look for, but stargazing apps can help us find our way.

Constellations have fascinated humans for centuries. From the Greeks, to the Romans, to modern astronomers, the patterns of these stars have been given different shapes and names. People stargaze for many reasons. Astronomic events, like meteor showers, eclipses, or comets passing by, can be rare events. Some of them only occur once in a lifetime! Even without events like these, the night sky can be a wondrous place.

The Orion constellation
The Orion constellation, Credit: Wikimedia/

It is easy to get lost in the vastness of space. Read on to find out apps that can help guide us through the stars.

Table of Contents

Free Stargazing Apps

Google Sky

Google Sky is a platform just like Google Earth or Google Maps! Instead of helping you understand the world or navigate roads, it does the same for the stars. Google Sky is available as both a website and a downloadable app for Android phones. This means it is one of the most accessible and widely used stargazing platforms.

On Google Sky, you can search the cosmos for specific locations, such as Alpha Centauri, the Milky Way, or the Zodiac constellations. The interface is intuitive and similar to many apps we use daily, allowing you to zoom in and pan around wherever you would like! Google Sky even allows you to choose how you would like to view the sky. Microwave and infrared views display certain emissions from various celestial bodies. The historical view even allows you to see what ancient astronomers like Galileo might have seen!

 

Download the Google Sky app. Click here

An old, hand-drawn star map
An old, hand-drawn star map, Credit: publicdomainpictures.net/Andrea Stöckel

SkEye

SkEye is excellent for beginners and serious stargazers alike, though only available on Android devices. SkEye identifies stars, planets, and constellations. It follows along as you move your phone, allowing real-time updates of information.

An astronomy telescope on an equatorial mount
An astronomy telescope on an equatorial mount, Credit: Wikimedia/Rama

If you have a telescope as well as a passion for astronomy, SkEye is the app for you! It allows you to strap your phone right onto your telescope. Based on what the telescope sees, SkEye gives you information, labeling constellations and highlighting interesting features. SkEye also updates users on astronomic events in their area. 

 

Download the SkEye app. Click here

Spot the Station

The International Space Station is one of the most incredible examples of cooperation between nations in pursuit of science. Canada, Russia, the United States, and Japan came together to launch a satellite. This satellite was designed as a space laboratory, furthering our understanding of all aspects of space science—even a field called astrobiology!

A blueprint of the ISS
A blueprint of the ISS, Credit: Wikimedia/Daniel Molybdenum/NASA/Roscosmos, with the help of John Chryslar and others

Although watching the ISS move through its orbit around Earth is not technically stargazing, it is pretty incredible. NASA has an online tool called Spot the Station. For Android phones, there is the ISS Detector Satellite Tracker. The App Store equivalent is the ISS Spotter. The ISS is visible to the naked eye. By tracking it on these apps, we can be outside at just the right time to watch it whizz past.

Download Spot the Station app. Click here.

Stellarium

Stellarium, and the subsequent Stellarium mobile app, are designed to be planetariums on your phone. This software is free and open source, so it has been extensively modified by creative users to do various things! Stellarium is designed so that everything looks three dimensional, just like it does with your naked eye or through a telescope. One of the coolest features of Stellarium is that it can be projected onto a dome, creating almost an augmented reality! Even researchers use Stellarium to understand more about the world around us.

 

Download Stellarium app. Click here.

A screenshot from Stellarium demonstrating common constellations in the Northern Hemisphere, Credit: Wikimedia/Jam123

NASA

Designed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), this app just might be the most comprehensive database of all things space. It is completely free of charge, and available on Android, iOS, Apple TV, Fire TV, Roku, and more. A vast amount of NASA’s content is accessible through the app, though features may vary from device to device.

This includes over 19,000 images, along with videos on demand and even podcasts from scientists, researchers, and astronauts. It’s also linked through all social media, allowing easy sharing of content to friends. NASA tweets and news are also updated daily, along with astronomic events specific to your region.

 

Download NASA app. Click here.

Paid Stargazing Apps

Star Walk

Star Walk has two editions, Star Walk 1 and Star Walk 2, both of which are very popular and useful. It is one of the oldest stargazing apps, born in 2001. That’s not to say old dogs can’t learn new tricks! Star Walk is continuously adding newer features. As of 2018, Star Walk is free for all iOS devices. The Lite version of Star Walk is free, but it misses some features.

Star Walk sets itself apart by how personalized it is. Based on the user’s location, time of day, and season, Star Walk predicts what constellations will be visible to them. When they pan the camera onto the sky, Star Walk layers labels and information onto the view. It points out exactly what it is you are looking at, based on where you are and when you are! The Time Machine features past and future views of the night sky. Sky Walk even updates you on astronomical events.

 

Download Star Walk app. Click here.

SkyView

SkyView is another app that has both free and paid versions, though with different features. SkyView is similar to StarWalk in that it uses your phone’s camera to detect and understand constellations around you. It also has augmented reality features.

It is easy to use and perfect for amateur astronomers. Its view integrates information about celestial objects in your area—when you tap on it, it appears! It is available both on Android and iOS systems. Skyview has an integrated calendar feature. If you are interested in a particular astronomical event, it will show up on your calendar and remind you!

Ultimately, the app you choose depends on what you need. If you have a telescope and need help identifying constellations, SkEye is right for you. If you want to discover more about the cosmos, NASA and GoogleSky are perfect! If you need help stargazing, Star Walk is right for you! Whatever you choose, astronomy is a wonderful field to learn about—always!

 

Download SkyView app. Click here.

Glossary

Constellation: A collection of stars

Infra-red: A type of electromagnetic wave, with wavelengths shorter than visible light but longer than microwaves

Microwave: A type of electromagnetic wave

Satellite: A human-built structure that orbits the Earth

Flesch Kincaid Grade Level: 8.5

Flesch Kinkaid Reading Ease: 58.1

Copyright @smorescience. All rights reserved. Do not copy, cite, publish, or distribute this content without permission.


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Author

  • Yamini Srikanth

    Yamini's (he/they) interests lie in environmental education, science communication and trying to build a better world. When not languishing in front of his laptop, they can be found outside, poking at any insect, bird or plant. They love making science accessible, especially to those who aren't encouraged to pursue it. Yamini hopes that the young women who read Smore love learning from their articles and get just a little bit more excited about science!