iPhone Astronomy Apps for Bushwalkers: Learn About the Night Sky

Ever wonder what that bright spot in the sky was? Wish you could name the stars, planets, and constellations you can see while sitting around the campfire? Like to know which satellite it is that you have just seen?

 Well, you could get your sky chart out and try to orientate it. That has certainly worked for me in the past, but with limited success.

Starfinder

Some of you might even remember the “Starfinder” which was a miniature cardboard planetarium and astrolabe which showed the constellations visible from 35S in the southern hemisphere. It had a disc, marked with the constellations,  which revolved inside a sleeve, with slots cut out, showing the sky at different times and months.

Fortunately there are several iPhone apps to help you that are a little more sophisticated. Some use the iPhone’s position sensors to determine where in the sky you are looking,  the GPS to decide where you are located and the time and date. Once these are decided, it is relatively easy to show you the relevant part of the sky map on the iPhone screen. Calibration is even possible eg  Star Walk allows you to view the night sky through the rear camera on your iPhone and superimpose it over  features you can recognise on the sky map, before setting.

Personally I agree with the rave reviews that Star Walk has been getting and this is my astronomy app of choice.

Star Walk Screenshot

For beginners. Star Spotter: real time motion tracking of the stars above you. General catalogue of sky objects. Pictures of constellations. Picture of the day: stunning pictures from deep space. Location of satellites. Search: be guided to sky objects. Deep sky objects. Time Machine: views the sky at any time in the past or future. Moon Phases. Night vision mode: preserves your dark vision to see more stars. View from any location

Other iPhone Astronomy Apps
Star Guide

Simple interface helps you learn the night sky by displaying the constellation at which your device is currently pointed. 

For best results hold the device at arms length, look along the surface, and tap the screen to pause the display

  • Star Map : for more experienced astronomers
Pocket Universe

Pocket Universe is an easy-to-use app that will help you learn constellations, bright stars and planets.

You can literally hold up your iPhone 3GS/4 in front of you, and the app will use the built-in compass to display the same view of the sky you see – but one that’s complete with names and information.

GoSkyWatch

Easily and quickly identify and locate stars, planets, constellations and more with a touch or by simply pointing to the sky. Have fun with family and friends discovering the images in the night sky. Go outside and explore the night sky.

iStellar is a planetarium App that shows the starry sky seen from the place and time of your choice. It is optimized for Multi-Touch control, allowing you to operate intuitively; drag to move the star chart, pinch to zoom in and out, and so on. 

For an excellent comparison (not updated since Dec 2009): Star Charting Apps for iPhone and iPod Touch Review by Dan Schroeder, Physics Department, Weber State University

This review  by an experienced astronomer outlines the basic features you need, lists the distinguishing features of each and gives advice on how to decide on which to purchase. To make the task easier there is a table listing the features of each.

Creative Commons License This article by Bush Walker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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