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There are many stargazing and astronomy apps you can use for navigating on the night sky. Over the years, I have been using almost every app available, and today, I want to talk about the best stargazing app. Actually, I will show you the two best stargazing apps, and they both are FREE. One is for your smartphone and the other one for the desktop computer because you will use them for different purposes.
But hands down, the best stargazing app is Stellarium, which is available for all devices and operating systems you can imagine, and it is completely free(desktop only) to download and use. I have been using Stellarium for ages, and I love it.
But let’s talk about the smartphone app for stargazing first. Yes, Stellarium is available for iOS and Android smartphones, but there is one app that I like more. Not because it is better but because it is simple to use. Stellarium is a more advanced app, and it is a paid download for your smartphone. (it’s free for desktop)
Star Chart App For Smartphone (FREE)
Star Chart is a free app available for iOS and Android, and it is an augmented reality app. It means that when you tilt your smartphone towards the sky, and it doesn’t matter if its day or night, it will show you what star or planet is in your field of view. I have to mention that there are in-app purchases available, but believe me, you don’t need them. For simple stargazing, the free version is more than enough.
The free version also includes the brightest deep-sky objects like galaxies and nebulas. It is known as the Messier catalog of deep-sky objects. You can also see the star constellations, planets and many stars by their name. It is very useful when you are under dark skies, and your knowledge of astronomy is not that good. It’s the perfect tool for first-time telescope users to navigate around the night sky during stargazing sessions as well.
Before you can use the app, you have to calibrate it. The screen will pop out, and it will guide you through the calibration process. You only need to tilt the screen to roll the ball around the circle on your screen. Till it more to cover the outside of the ring.
After the calibration, you can switch between the night mode and day mode in the settings. Night mode is handy because after activating it, the app will change all the colors on the screen to a red. This is very important when stargazing because red color has the smallest impact on your night vision. You have to wait till your eyes adapt to dark to see more stars under the dark skies. Looking at the bright screen of your smartphone will ruin your night vision, so the night mode in red is a must.
How To Find Object In The App
The Star Chart has quite a big catalog of objects. There are all the planets, hundreds of stars, all the constellations, and Messier catalog of 110 brightest deep sky objects.
To find an object on the sky, just tap the spying glass icon on the screen, and it will take you to the menu where you can choose from planets, stars, constellations, and Messier objects. Pick the object you want to find in the sky, and after tapping it, a small arrow will appear on the screen. Move your smartphone in the direction of the arrow, and it will guide you to the chosen object. When you reach the right position on the sky, the object will be highlighted in the small rotating circle. Pretty cool, yeah?
The Star Chart app is simple to use and beginner-friendly. It will give you everything you need for your stargazing session. In my opinion, it is the best stargazing app for your smartphone. You can also customize the display settings by switching on and off orbital lines, atmosphere or images of the constellations, and many more. It will read your location from your GPS to show you the accurate representation of the sky from your position, or you can set it manually to see the sky from a different location.
Stellarium – The Best Stargazing App(FREE)
The Stellarium is free open source software available for Linux, Mac OS X, Windows, and you can also use Stellarium Web in your internet browser. It is a planetarium for your computer with a realistic sky in 3D. You can basically stargaze at home and get a massive amount of knowledge about astronomy. It has so many features than even after many years of using it; I still don’t know all of them. So let me mention just some of them.
- catalog of 177 million stars
- catalog of 1 million deep-sky objects
- realistic Milky Way
- images of nebulae and galaxies
- all planets and moons
- time control
- telescope control
- moon phases
I mentioned just a few of the features, and to talk about all of them would require to write a book. You can download the full user manual from the website, which is 365 pages long. But I will tell you about a few features in detail that I’m using most often.
The time control feature is, for me, the most used one of all when I open Stellarium. You can go back and forward in time so you can plan your stargazing or astrophotography sessions in advance. There are different speeds you can choose. You can go thousands of years back or into the future. I’m using it mostly for the astrophotography sessions to see which object will be visible at a particular night and for how long. Having this option is very useful for me. You can also use it to track the moon to see different phases, when is rising when is setting down, and how high it will be above the horizon.
When you download the Stellarium, it will only have the default catalog of the objects, which is more than enough. Still, if you are a hardcore astronomer like me, you have an option to download extended databases. Then you can find anything you want that is known to date in the universe. You can also download different databases of satellites, asteroids, exoplanets, and more.
When you target an object, it will display every possible information in the top left corner. There is a type of object, magnitude, distance, rise, set, and much more. To track the object, just hit SPACE BAR, and it will follow the object when you zoom to it. You can zoom on 3D planets, the moon, and images of the Messier objects.
It is possible to turn on and off different display options to customize your view in the Stellarium. For example, I like to turn off the atmosphere to see the clear skies and sometimes turn off the ground, so I have 360 degrees view of the universe.
Other options include turning on and off the galaxies, planets, cardinal points, meteor showers, satellites, and exoplanets. You can also switch between equatorial and azimuthal view.
Telescope Field Of View Simulator
This is an amazing feature because it can show you what field of view you get with the telescope and particular eyepiece. This option is in the top right corner, and you have to fill in the data about the telescope and eyepieces you have first. Then you can combine different eyepieces with Barlow lenses or focal reducers to see the final field of view you will get with a given telescope. It is also very helpful when you are buying the telescope, and you want to know how big the magnification will be in real life and if the object will fit in your view.
Field Of View For Astrophotography
This function is also available on many telescope websites, but here it is more sophisticated. In astrophotography, it is crucial to combine the right telescope with the right camera sensor to get the field of view you need.
Here you can add many different camera sensors where you put specifications like pixel resolution, chip size, pixel size, etc. It is a powerful tool that I’m using before every astrophotography session to plan ahead and correctly frame the object I’m going to shoot. This function also helped me with buying the right astro cameras with the correct sensor size for my telescope.
The last feature that I want to talk about is the option to control the telescope with Stellarium. I have already made an article about this feature called How To Connect Telescope To Computer, so go check it out. But in short, the Stellarium has a neat feature to use a lot of plugins and scripts. They are in the settings, and one of the plugins is called Telescope Control.
This is, of course, available only for telescopes with computerized mount. After connecting the mount with the Stellarium, you can control your telescope from the computer. Just find the object, press CTRL+1, and the telescope will slew and point to that object. It is not fully controlled, you can’t move your telescope with a press of a button, you always have to pick the object, and then the telescope will slew and point at it.
The Stellarium provides a huge amount of options to plan your stargazing session or to do astrophotography and learn something about astronomy. I love this piece of software, and I highly recommend it to everyone interested in astronomy and telescopes. It is the best stargazing app on the internet.
The Star Chart and Stellarium are, in my opinion, the best stargazing apps, but there are many other useful apps that you can use. For example, Sky Safari made by Celestron or Sky View. But no matter what you choose, the most important thing is to have clear skies and passion for the universe.
When I was growing up and learning astronomy, there were no apps or internet, only books, and paper star charts. These days it is much easier to learn the constellations and objects on the night sky thanks to modern technology and our smartphones that we carry on us every day, and now, we can just point them at the sky, and they will show us everything we want to know about the universe…well, not everything:)
Here are some of my favorite gear
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you found it helpful as you learn more about telescopes. Here are some of the gear I use and recommend.
Beginner telescope: This is by far the best beginner telescope you can buy. The Orion SkyQuest XT6 is the perfect telescope to start with. The aperture is big enough to see almost every object in the night sky and on the other hand, the price is so low for what this telescope can do.
My astrophotography telescope: I use only a newtonian telescope to do astrophotography. I use an 8" newtonian astrograph telescope.
If you want more recommendations please check my recommended gear section.