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A child squints at a solar eclipse in 1970. AP Photo/JHJR via PA Images
heavenly bodies

The best astronomy apps for amateur stargazers

If you want to decipher the skies, these 11 apps are worth a look.

IT CAN BE very difficult to identify planets, stars, and clusters at home from your backyard, especially if you are a beginner.

(Unless you are Dave Grennan from Raheny in Dublin – check out his telescope-in-the-garden-shed, which helped him identify TWO supernovas.)

But hey, if you’re not Dave Grennan, you can find an app to help. Astronomy apps are making it possible for anyone to be astronomer — you don’t even need a telescope.

The apps use the GPS and compass in your phone to pinpoint your location and show you where all the surrounding celestial bodies are, even if your view is blocked. Most of the apps don’t even need an Internet connection to function so you can take them on camping trips.

Just open the app, point your smartphone at the sky, and the app will identify the planets and stars around you.

We’ve browsed through some of the top-rated astronomy apps and put together a list of the ones that look the most awesome. Whether you are an aspiring astronomer or just a casual backyard stargazer, these 11 apps can help you locate planets, stars, and galaxies — no telescope required.

SkySafari (Android or iOS) €2.99

SkySafari can display a map of the sky from any location and shows how positions of celestial bodies change up to one million years into the past or future. It uses images collected from NASA spacecraft and the Hubble Space Telescope to show you the major planets and moons in the solar system. The app also gets you a subscription to SkyWeek: a magazine that tells you about upcoming eclipses and meteor showers.

Starmap (iOS) €4.49 or a ‘lite’ version for free

Starmap has about 350,000 stars, 150 galaxies and clusters, and 50 asteroids and dwarf planets. The app gives you the “night’s best selection” so you know what you should be looking for on any given night and it identifies shooting star zones.

This app is also a point and locate that uses the iPhone’s compass to identify the planets and stars right in front of you. You can zoom in on a particular object and the app has a night vision mode — the backlight on your phone dims and the images on the screen glow red so your night vision isn’t ruined.

Pocket Universe (iOS) €2.69 or a beginner version for free

Pocket Universe is an especially great app for beginners. You can point your phone up at the sky to identify planets and stars near you, but the app also provides a list of suggested objects to observe based on the date. It even gives you a list of observation tips. Pocket Universe also has quizzes you can take on the planets, stars, and constellations so you can see how much you’re learning.

Solar Walk (iOS) €2.69

The Solar Walk app includes an interactive model of the galaxy. You can tap on planets and stars to learn about their trajectories, structural make up, and the history of their exploration. The app also lets you plug in a specific date, past or present, and it will display how the planets were aligned. Solar Walk also has 3D models of some of the man made satellites orbiting in space.

Deluxe Moon HD (iOS) US$2.99

Deluxe Moon lets you keep track of the moon phases, what zodiac sign the moon is in, daily moonrise and moonset times, and what distance the moon is from the Earth. You’ll never miss another full moon or lunar eclipse.

Star Walk (iOS) €0.89

All you have to do is point your phone at the night sky, and Star Walk locates and pinpoints the exact location of the celestial object you want to see. You can use the precise location to find the object in your telescope. You can access information about every celestial body that shows up in the app. It also includes a calendar of upcoming celestial events so you can plan your next stargaze.

Star Chart (iOS or Android) Free (There is a Star Chart app in Windows, it costs 99 cent)

Star Chart is similar to Star Walk, but it’s free. You can also manually set the location to see what the sky looks like from the other side of the planet. It displays stars and planets in real time and it includes a time shift feature that lets you see what the sky will look like 10,000 years into the past or future.

Distant Suns (iOS or Android) €3.59/€3.76 respectively, or a ‘lite’ version is free

Distant Suns is also a point and locate app and has information on over 300,000 stars. It uses images from the Hubble Space Telescope and includes data and information on everything you observe. It also provides you with weather updates so you know when your view might be blocked by clouds.

You can keep up with the latest space news from Astronomy Magazine using the app. This app has gotten some pretty impressive reviews: its average is five out of five stars.

NASA app (iOS or Android or Windows) Free

The NASA app is a great resource for details on the latest space exploration missions. It also provides tons of breathtaking NASA images and information about celestial bodies.

Sky View (iOS) €1.79

Use Sky View if you want to explore more than just our solar system. The app helps you find all 88 constellations, all planets in the solar system, and even the International Space Station. You can even capture and share images on social media through the app. It also has a time machine feature so you can observe what past and future skies will look like.

Night Sky Lite (Android) Free

The Night Sky Lite is another point and locate app, but this one is free for Android phones. It uses the GPS and compass in your phone or tablet and pulls up an overlay map of the planets, stars, and galaxies in your location.

- Kelly Dickerson

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