Amazing Space: 10 apps for stargazing and planet hunting

If you're looking at the sky, there are apps for making the experience a more rich and engaging one.

If you're an amateur astronomer, having a quick reference while you're away from your equipment, especially one as detailed as some of those we tested, frees up a lot of time and space.

For parents, these are portals you can hand your children to begin their wonder for the heavens.

Kieran Salsone

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Price: Free

Begin here. As the temperature falls at dusk it helps to remind yourself why you're about to stand in a frozen paddock hoping for a glimpse of something through your telescope.

APOD's clean user interface gives you easy access to astrophotography but be careful of battery-drain and download problems. Quite buggy.

Kieran Salsone

Night Sky Tools

Price: Free

Of all the sky map apps we tested, this was the most reliable and full-featured. The Sky Map mode uses your phone's compass and accelerometer to tell where you're pointing it and shows which stars, constellations and celestial objects you're looking at.

NST's catalogue of objects and events is the best of the bunch.

Kieran Salsone

Vortex Planetarium - Astronomy

Price: $2.99

While not as full-featured as Night Sky Tools, this is much smoother and easier to use while still covering most bases. If you're just starting out or want something to show the kids, this may be your best first choice.

Both Vortex and NST handle the built-in compass the best of those tested.

>> Top five 'firsts' in human space exploration

Kieran Salsone

Mobile Observatory

Price: $5.79

Mobile Observatory is slightly less obvious than NST and Vortex but with a bit of use it combines the best of both. Given a few seconds the sensors will nail the right spot and it takes little to no celebration to work. You get what you pay for.

The function for tracking solar objects like Galilean moons is unexpectedly easy and useful.

Distant Suns Max
Distant Suns Max Kieran Salsone

Distant Suns Max

Price: $6.42

DSM wins the ease of use award for having a tutorial when you first load it up. Like Vortex and NST the compass actually works, albeit it with an annoying jitter.

If you're using a tablet, this app moves to the top of the field, though Mobile Observatory is cheaper.

Planetarium
Planetarium Kieran Salsone

Planetarium

Price: Free

Planetarium is geared toward telling you where celestial objects are, when they will rise and when they will set. Sadly, it is the ugliest and least intuitive app of the bunch. Others do it better, and the advertisements are annoying.

Stellarium
Stellarium Kieran Salsone

Stellarium mobile sky app

Price: $2.89

What would otherwise be a gorgeous and easy-to-use planetarium app is rendered useless by poor compass integration and awkward controls. It also lacks the depth of information of NST and Vortex is better for beginners.

For $2.89 it should work straight away.

Star Chart
Star Chart Kieran Salsone

Star chart

Price: Free

Star Chart is easy to use and pretty, but suffers the same compass issues as Stellarium. The free version is worth a try in case your handset is more compatible, so check it out. Sadly a lot of the information in this app is hidden behind relatively expensive in-app purchases.

SkEye Astronomy
SkEye Astronomy Kieran Salsone

SkEye Astronomy

Price: Free

SkEye has a reputation for being accurate and powerful - but I don't see it. NST and DSM are both as detailed but all have a much better relationship with the phone's hardware.

The interface is less well-behaved than others and has fewer options for tweaking the situation.

SkySafari 4
SkySafari 4 Kieran Salsone

SkySafari 4

Price: $1.89

While the hardware integration for SkySafari was the worst of the apps I tested, it still had a smooth panning and zooming action and was probably the fastest of the apps.

The tested version of this app was the $1.89 SkySafari 4. More expensive and more featured editions exist up to SkySafari Pro at $44.99 so be careful to pick the version for your needs by reading the feature list for each.

 

AMAZING SPACE

DISCOVER the secrets of the cosmos in our Amazing Space sticker series.

Look for your tokens in the paper until Saturday, June 6 and present them at participating newsagents for your free Activity Book, 3D Glasses and Sticker Card.

There are 30 Sticker Cards to collect, plus cool instant prizes to be won.



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