The best astronomy apps to see stars and planets

Many people like to admire the night sky, especially when it is clean and full of bright spots of the most diverse. But not everyone recognizes what they’re seeing in the sky—maybe the most famous constellations are the first to be pointed out, for example, the one known as Cruzeiro do Sul. Is that bright spot over there a star or a planet? What is that faint glow moving in a straight line?

  • 14 tips for taking the best pictures of the sky and stars with your cell phone
  • The good news is that there are mobile apps that help you see stars and planets, showing you exactly what each point shining in the sky is all about. Some of these apps allow you to keep track of what happened in the sky even in real time, even identifying satellites that are passing through there at that moment.

    That’s why

    Canaltech has brought together the best astronomy apps to see stars and planets , and that end up teaching a little more about astronomy to anyone.

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    Heaven Chart/Star Chart

    • Compatibility:

      Android, iOS

    Price:

    free of charge

    The Sky Chart or Star Chart (as found on the App Store) is perhaps one of the most complete free astronomy apps available. Through it, it is possible to observe the sky in real time according to the observer’s location. Just point your cell phone camera at the object in the sky you want to identify and touch the object in question to get more information about it, such as its name, its distance from the Earth and magnitude of the apparent brightness in the sky.

    (Image: Wyllian Towers/Screenshot)

    There is still the possibility of advancing the time, which is great for predicting the movement of the sky over the hours . For example, do you want to find out in which direction stars rise and set, or what time will the moon rise over the horizon? Carta Celeste, in its free version, provides these answers.

    Heavens-Above

  • Compatibility:

    Android

  • Price:

    free of charge

  • Heavens-Above is much simpler than the previous application as it doesn’t have a dynamic graphical interface simulating the night sky, but nothing makes it any less advantageous. It is ideal for knowing exactly which satellites and planets are in the sky above your head, either in real time or by setting the desired date.

    (Image: Wyllian Towers/Screenshot)

    The coolest thing about Heavens-Above is the possibility to set an alert for the objects of greatest interest. With this, the application will always notify you when, for example, the International Space Station is passing by your location, also informing its apparent brightness (magnitude), elevation in relation to the horizon and more. Regarding satellites, it even informs who the manufacturer is and their launch date.

    Stellarium

    Compatibility:

    Android, web

  • Price:

    free of charge

  • The Stellarium in its mobile version is a bit similar to the Sky Chart, but it is more dynamic and simpler to navigate. With Portuguese translation, this application, even in its free version, allows you to view the different definitions of constellation compositions from different cultures.

    (Image: Wyllian Towers/Screenshot)

    It also offers night mode, essential to not dazzle the brightness of the stars on observation nights. Therefore, Stellarium can identify stars, planets, comets and even some satellites — in real time or not.

    Moon

    Compatibility:

    Android, iOS

  • Price:

    free

  • Moon is a very simple app and its only focus is the Moon. It offers basic information about our natural satellite according to the access date. Example: when you open the app now, it will show how much of the Moon is lit by the Sun at this time, and also tell you what the phase of the Moon is right now.

    (Image: Wyllian Towers/Screenshot)

    This is a very objective app and there isn’t much to interact with, but if the focus is to follow the Moon’s movement along of the month, for example, it is quite adequate.

    Sky Map

  • Compatibility:

    Android

  • Price:

    free of charge

    The Sky Map is similar to Stellarium, but a shorter, simpler version. It offers interesting commands, such as defining what you want it to show in the sky through your phone’s camera. For example, you can choose to only see planets in that patch of sky where you point the device’s camera, or choose only stars, and so on.

    (Image: Wyllian Towers/Screenshot)

    However, it does not provide additional information when clicking in objects. The Sky Map gives them their name and position, but it doesn’t say, for example, what phase the Moon is in or the apparent brightness of Venus. Still, it’s a good choice for those who want something more objective, without frills.

    Solar System Scope

    • Compatibility:

      Android, iOS

    Price:

    free of charge

    The Solar System Scope, as the name suggests, is focused on the Solar System. It not only offers the view of the sky from the terrestrial perspective, as in the other apps, but it also provides a true exploration trip through our planetary system.

    (Image: Wyllian Towers/Screenshot)

    In addition to its look that looks like a sci-fi game, the Solar System Scope provides a lot of information about the most diverse celestial bodies scattered throughout the Solar System. It’s great for visualizing, for example, where the asteroid belts are located or what the composition of Neptune’s core is.

    Star Finder

  • Compatibility: Android

  • Price:

    free

  • The Star Finder is an alternative for those looking for a version of the Sky Chart that is lighter and easier to navigate through the commands. It allows you to approach the object of interest via on-screen gestures and offers a summary of its characteristics, as well as its distance from the Earth.

    (Image: Wyllian Towers/Screenshot)

    However, it is only available in English. Still, it’s easy to use the app from the command icons, which are very intuitive. As in other apps already mentioned, the Star Finder also allows “time travel” — ideal resource for those who want to discover the position of the stars and stars on a specific date.

    Solar Walk Lite

    • Compatibility:

      Android

    • Price: free

    This is another app focused on the Solar System. In addition to music that lulls exploration of the sky, Solar Walk Lite provides a wealth of information about the planets, including real images taken from various missions.

    (Image: Wyllian Towers/Screenshot)

    When the focus object is the Earth, the app points out the most revealing satellites in orbit, as well as the Station International Space. It’s not an app for those who want to point their cell phone to the sky and discover what they’re looking at, but rather for exploring the Solar System.

    Sol , Moon and Planets

    • Compatibility: Android

  • Price:

    free

  • This app is similar to Heavens-Above, but its graphical interface can be more attractive. Its exploration commands are many, ranging from the exact position of objects in the sky to our cosmic neighborhood, including the closest stars in the Solar System.

    (Image: Wyllian Towers/Screenshot)

    The Sun, Moon and Planets also provide details about the moons of other planets. In addition, it provides a calendar indicating major celestial events, such as the much admired lunar eclipses.

    Star Walk

    • Compatibility:

      Android, iOS

    Price:

    free

    Star Walk is a great option for those who want a very basic astronomy application, with the most essential information possible, making its use very easy. It indicates things like the name and position of objects in the sky, both in real time and at other times.

    (Image: Wyllian Towers/Screenshot)

    The app also presents a summary of data about the object of interest and allows you to move forward or backward in time. A negative point, perhaps, are the advertisements that appear suddenly – which does not harm the experience, but can bother those who want to stay focused on their observations.

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