Astronomy is really freaking cool. If you agree, you’re going to love these apps.
From augmented reality to exploring the universe from home, these Android apps can take you through the cosmos and are both educational and fun. You can already find some amazing astronomy content out on the Web, but today let’s take a look at some of the best Android apps for this.
While online space telescopes are awesome, augmented reality apps step it up another notch to make you the telescope. With Star Walk, you simply hold your device up towards the stars and it uses your device’s internal sensors to determine where you’re pointing it. It then shows you a layout of what stars and planets are in front of you, and you can tap on them to learn more.
This is by far the best app on this list, and it’s incredibly easy to use. A search button rests in the lower left corner, a share button in the upper left, a transparency button in the upper right (more on this later), and an options button in the bottom right. Tapping on a planet or star will pop up a small button at the center bottom which you can press for more information.
Tapping on the information button will give you a detailed look at the planet, moon, or star, along with a sidebar of information as shown below. The visuals are stunning, and there is a wealth of interesting information available for a wide range of celestial objects.
There’s also a night mode in the settings which will darken everything and change the colors to a deep red, making it easier on your eyes at night when it’s pitch black out. The transparency option, as mentioned earlier, only works well if you have bright enough objects in the sky, like the moon.
In the photo below, the small white dot over the “M” in “Moon” is actually the moon as seen from my smartphone’s camera. It lined up pretty well with what I could actually see, although the transparency didn’t help at all for dimmer stars that my phone couldn’t see. That’s not a fault in the app, though.
In the settings, there are options for the music and sound effects, as well as your location and how detailed constellations are. Visual magnitude is how bright the objects in the sky will appear. Adjusting it to the lowest setting will make it resemble what you can see with the naked eye, whereas a high visual magnitude will allow you to see even the most distant of stars.
Overall, this app is the one-stop shop for staring up at the sky and getting all the information you could want all wrapped up in a nice, clean interface. Unfortunately, it costs $3.17 and there’s no free trial version, but it is completely worth it.
As a solid free alternative to Star Walk, users would still be happy with Star Chart. This one can be used in portrait or landscape and has the same general idea: hold your phone up to the sky and it will orient itself using your location and compass to show you what’s in the sky.
While the app is free, in-app purchases can add up quick as shown in the menu above. You can also adjust your settings in this menu and find particular night sky objects that you’re looking for.
While searching around the sky, tapping on any object will give you a little pop-up as shown above. You can then choose to zoom in on that object and admire it in all its 3D visual glory.
A small microphone also hangs around the bottom of the screen for voice controls, but what voice commands do what is a little unclear. “Show me Great Bear” will take you into the Sky view to see the Great Bear constellation, as shown above to the left, but “Go to Mars” will take you into 3D explore mode and zoom up on the red planet.
Star Chart also has a night mode for dark blacks and red to stay easy on the eyes. However, the black bar that stays along the top with the blue icon draws the user a bit out of the experience as compared to other apps which go full screen and feel more immersive.
Still, as a free app, Star Chart is a great deal.
Google’s open-source Sky Map isn’t the most robust option here, but it’s simple to use and completely free. For the occasional identifying of constellations, it works fabulously.
The interface shown above is really all that you get. You can toggle which objects are shown — planets, constellations, stars, etc. — and switch between automatic and manual controls. Automatic controls allow you to use the compass in your phone to determine what you’re seeing, while the manual mode just lets you explore the sky by swiping around.
Without all the bells and whistles of the other apps, and being a much smaller download, this could be a better app for devices with more limited hardware, but be aware that you’ll need an internal compass and GPS for the automatic viewing to work.
Made by the same people as Star Walk, Solar Walk is like a 3D model of our solar system with incredible graphics and information on all of the planets. This one is less for staring up at the stars at night and more for sitting around learning about the solar system, but it deserves a mention in any discussion of astronomy apps.
Selecting a specific planet will allow you to get in-depth information on it, even down to the internal structure. This is such an incredible education tool that it really should be loaded on tablets used in schools.
In the settings, there’s an interesting option for a 3D mode. Have a pair of old 3D glasses lying around? Then you can even have a 3D solar system experience! This app keeps much of the same interface as Star Walk, but with a clear focus on the planets of the solar system rather than the stars of the universe.
The download, a hefty 300MB in size, is free, but it’s just a trial version. Gaining access to any planets except for Saturn will cost you $2.90. Still, there’s not a more fun way to explore the solar system out there.
Which of these is your favorite? Any others you would recommend? Let us know in the comments!
Photo Credit: NASA