1960’s Star Trek could only imagine the power we wield today with our smart phones and the amount of information available at our fingertips. I’m never far from my phone, dawning it from my pocket whenever I need a bit of information or to access some tool for a task at hand. Somewhat akin to Mr. Spock’s tricorder, using astronomy apps I can point my phone at the cosmos and see what star is in view, when the International Space Station will cross the sky or predict upcoming aurora. Here is a list of some of the apps I use and while I’ll be focusing on iOS apps, many of these or similar are also available for Android and other platforms.
Be it under a night sky or riding the train home from work, Aurora Forecast provides up-coming aurora predictions and includes a 3D view of the Earth showing exactly where the aurora is presently visible. Added details such as solar wind speed and density help provide a complete picture which can be fascinating on its own even if the aurora is not visible.
Sputnik! will advise on upcoming iridium flares as well as visibility for the International Space Station. Details include the time and direction to look, the brightness of the flare and which satellite is producing the show. You can view up to 7 days in advance so you’re bound to see something between cloudy nights.
I enjoy viewing the latest exoplanet discoveries and keeping an eye on candidates closest resembling Earth. Exoplanet provides a complete database of confirmed exoplanets, a visual representation of their relative sizes to our solar system planets, orbits and location within the Milky Way. It’s a great all-in-one resource to view and explore exoplanet data.
Starmap is my go-to planetarium app containing a host of valuable details useful when behind the telescope eyepiece. Current locations for stars, planets, and deep sky objects are easily checked as is referencing which objects are visible at the time I’m observing. Evening weather conditions, current seeing conditions and Bortle sky darkness details for any location can come in handy when scoping out new observing sites.
Both Moon Globe and Mars Globe are great resources for viewing feature names, spacecraft landing sites and topography data for the Moon and Mars. You can spin these celestial bodies under your finger tips, zoom into features, and change day/night cycles for added depth.
Undoubtedly there are many other great apps as I’ve only touched on a few and new choices appear frequently on app stores. Many apps are completely free with some having pro features, which in Starmap’s case, is well worth the minimal cost. If you’ve found an app or even desktop software that you find invaluable in your observing sessions please let other club members know. Tell us about it by posting a quick note to the HAA’s Facebook page.