Remember how you felt when you first looked at the night sky through a telescope? All those stars, those distant planets — celestial bodies that form poetry in the blackness of deep space. A little help from technology can let you rediscover that child-like joy.
Now, there are already programs like Stellarium to learn about the night sky from your computer. But we’re going to be looking at sites and apps that accompany real-life star-gazers who need to know what to look at up above, and when to head out of town to capture breath-taking vistas.
Sky at a Glance (Web): Weekly Guide to Sights in the Sky
Since 1941, Sky & Telescope has been one of the leading astronomy publications in the world. These guys know what they’re talking about, so if you want to know what’s happening in the sky this week, check out Sky at a Glance column published every Friday and add it to your Feedly or other RSS news reader.
Sky at a Glance tells you everything that’s going to happen in the sky that is worth checking out next week. It’s not just what’s happening, but information about why it’s significant. Plus, you get a full roundup of what the planets in our solar system are up to.
If a weekly guide is too much for you, maybe you should check out Telescopes.com’s guide to the best celestial events of 2016. There’s plenty of stuff waiting to happen before the end of the year!
Heavens Above (Web, Android): Location-Based Guide for the Sky
Heavens Above is the site everyone needs to visit at least once to know just how much amazing stuff there is in the night sky above them. Key in your location and Heavens Above will tell you anything you want to know. From the various satellites above you today to what time the International Space Station might pass you.
The best is the interactive sky chart, which shows you the astronomical view above you right now, and you can even change the time to whatever you want. It’s interactive, so click on any stars, constellations, or planets to get more information about it.
Apart from all this, Heavens Above also brings outer space to your Android phone. Get the free Android app to know precisely when satellites will pass above, or my favorite, when Iridium satellites will reflect the sun to you to create bright flares!
Download: Heavens Above for Android (Free)
Numerous (Android, iOS): Countdown to Celestial Events [No Longer Available]
Some events deserve all the hype they get. The countdown to the big event and the mounting expectations are as important to the “feel” as the event itself. Numerous is a beautiful countdown app to track cool upcoming events. And it has a dedicated plugin for celestial events!
The Celestial Events calendar tracks phases of the moon, rocket launches, supermoons, eclipses, meteor showers, habitable planets, and SpaceX, Elon Musk’s initiative for mind-boggling rocket launches and spacecrafts. Tap any event and you’ll get to enter a discussion forum, where you might even get some tips and advice on how to best follow it.
Download: Numerous for Android (Free) |iOS (Free)
SkyMaps (Web): Detailed Printable Map to the Night Sky
When you’re actually heading out to watch the night sky, it helps to have a printable calendar full of details. SkyMaps has every single thing that you’ll need, whether you’re new to astronomy or an avid star-gazer.
The Evening Sky Map is free to download and available for three different locations on the planet: Northern Hemisphere, Equatorial, or Southern Hemisphere. With it, you will learn how to identify planets, stars, and major constellations, locate and follow comets, and even spot galaxies and nebulae.
There’s so much more on SkyMaps, like star atlases for beginners and detailed atlases for others, Plus, the monthly SkyMaps calendar has day-by-day details of all the wonderful events happening in any month.
NASA SkyCal (Web): Make a Custom Sky Events Calendar
The world’s most prestigious space organization has a neat, free tool to make custom calendars about sky events. It’s pretty simple to use too. First, select the time zone you’re in. Then select the sky events to include in the calendar. Your options are lunar phases, eclipses, equinoxes or solstices, moon apogee or perigee, moon-planet conjunctions, planet events, and meteor showers.
Finally, just add the year or the month you want to generate the calendar for, and you’ll get a month-by-month calendar for every event you selected. Surprisingly, the NASA SkyCal also lets you map these events on non-Gregorian calendars like the Indian Civil Calendar or the Persian Calendar. For any more details, read the explanatory notes for SkyCal.
Feed Your Inner Space Geek!
There is no way, just no way, that anyone can resist the humbling, perception-altering effect of gazing at the night sky with its perfect view of infinity. If you’ve never seen it, you should. We have tools for space-obsessed users, sites to learn about the universe, and so much more at our fingertips!
Have you tried looking at the night sky through a telescope? What did you see, and how did you feel? Share your experience of the great beyond in the comments below.