Are you an astronomy enthusiast and, as soon as you get the chance, run out of town to admire the starry sky? I understand you, it is one of the most beautiful spectacles that nature has to offer us. But what if I told you that, thanks to technology, it is possible to admire the stars even without moving from home? No, I'm not kidding! There are apps for smartphones (and tablets) that allow you to admire the starry sky even when light pollution or weather conditions would prevent it. They aren't as glamorous as a real starry sky, but they work!
To use these apps to watch the stars, all you have to do is download them from the store of your smartphone or tablet, point the device towards the sky and use the star map that you will have in front of you to identify the exact position of the stars and all other celestial bodies. The cost of this "magic"? It depends.
Some apps that I will report to you today are totally free, while others are paid. You can freely choose which ones to install and you can try them on your devices - whether they are Android or iOS / iPadOS devices - in order to identify the ones that best suit your needs. So, are you ready to get started? If your answer is affirmative, take a few minutes of free time and get to work immediately: out there is a sky full of stars that is just waiting to be ... framed with your smartphone!
- Free stargazing apps
- Paid stargazing apps
- More apps for stargazing
Free stargazing apps
If you want to watch the stars using your smartphone or tablet, you don't have to spend a lot of money. There are several free applications that do this job very well and below you can find some shining examples.
Star Chart (Android / iOS / iPadOS)
One of the best app to watch stars so free is Star Map. This application, available for both Android and iOS / iPadOS, allows you to have an accurate representation of over 5.000 stars, with also the planets and other celestial bodies present within the Solar System.
Before describing its operation in detail, I want to tell you that this app is available in both basic free version - very well done and quite complete - than in one Pro version what it costs 4,49 € your Play Store and 5,49 € on the App Store and allows you to have some more features, such as the ability to follow meteor showers, have a model of the extended solar system, track the comets that touch the Earth and the sun and follow the artificial satellites that orbit around the Land.
That said, let's take action. After installing and starting Star Map on your device, tap the button View from the sky present in its home screen, press the button OK and grant it permission to access the location of the device. Now, point your device to the sky, at the point where there are the stars on which you want to get information. Alternatively, drag your finger across the screen to "navigate" the firmament.
To get information about a star (or any other celestial body), tap on it and then press on its name (at the bottom of the screen), so as to view the classification of the celestial body selected, the distance from the earth and still other details.
By pressing on the icon magnifying glass located in the lower right corner of the screen, on the other hand, you can carry out targeted searches by typing the name of a star, a constellation, a satellite or another celestial body present in the Star Map database (keep in mind that some this information is only available in the paid version of the app).
Night Sky (iOS/iPadOS/macOS)
If you are an astronomy enthusiast and own one or more Apple-branded devices, Night Sky is another application that I recommend you consider. It is available for free download on iOS / iPadOS and also for macOS and is very easy to use (in the next paragraphs, however, I will focus on using its mobile version). I point out, however, that some contents, such as those relating to virtual star travel, are only available by subscribing to thePremium subscription, which starts from 4,49 euro / month.
This interesting app, in addition to offering the "classic" features to admire the stars and celestial bodies of the Milky Way, allows you to access some particular features, such as the Around the World Mode which allows you to view a satellite map of the planet Earth, the Augmented Reality which allows to transform the ceiling of the house into an artificial celestial vault, theAstrophotography which allows you to take photos of the sky and compare your shots with the Night Sky star map and much more.
After installing and starting Night Sky on your device, scroll through the information sheets that illustrate its operation or, if you prefer to go directly to its use, tap the button Skip the tutorial. Next, press the purple buttons Consent and grant the app all the permissions it needs to function properly.
Scroll, then, the screen and, in the section Customize Night Sky, choose whether to activate sounds, music for astronomical observation, display of the natural horizon and so on, using the appropriate switches available, and scroll the screen again to switch to using the app (just press on the x at the top right to close the ad promoting the Premium subscription to do so).
At this point, you just have to frame with your device the portion of the sky where the stars of your interest are (or possibly swipe your finger on the screen, if you are not outdoors). When you see a celestial body that interests you, tap the button (I) to get more information about it and find out all the technical details concerning it.
By pressing on the text field SearchInstead, you can search for a certain planet or a certain star and view a 3D model of it in an extremely easy and fast way. By pressing on the icon invisible cube (top right), then, you can access the function of augmented reality (AR) of the app.
Paid stargazing apps
If you have reached this point of the guide, obviously the solutions I have proposed so far have not fully satisfied you, I guessed it? Well, don't worry. There are also some paid stargazing apps which will surely be right for you and which, being more complete than the free ones, could satisfy you better.
Star Walk 2 (Android/iOS/iPadOS)
The first paid app that I recommend you try is the very famous Star Walk 2. It can be downloaded both on Android (€ 0,99) and on iOS / iPadOS (€ 3,99) and it is done quite well: the interface is very intuitive and simple to use, the sound effects make the exploration of the sky and the numerous 3D models make the browsing experience even more immersive.
After downloading Star Walk 2, start the app, tap the button Current and grant the permissions relative to the position (to show the portion of the sky visible in the place where you are). Therefore, scroll through the information sheets that illustrate the operation of the application by pressing the button Following (twice in a row) and then on Close, and point your smartphone or tablet to the sky.
On the device screen, you will see in real time the stars you see in the sky, as well as the exact position of planets, satellites and other celestial bodies that are invisible to the naked eye. Once you have identified the star you are interested in, tap on it and then tap on his name placed at the bottom. To get more information on the selected item, tap the button (I) at the top: in this way you will see details about the constellation, the spectral class, the average distance from the Sun, etc .; to return to the three-dimensional view, press on cube with 3D written on it.
To search "manually" for a star (or any other celestial body), call the function Search, by tapping on the icon magnifying glass (bottom left), and type, in the search field that appears, the name of the star or planet you want to view (eg. Sun o Pianet Nine).
Sky Guide (iOS/iPadOS)
Sky Guide is, in my humble opinion, the best paid application for stargazing (at least on Apple-branded devices). The Sky Guide interface is cared for down to the smallest details, as well as the numerous features that are included. It can be purchased and used on iOS / iPadOS devices for the price of 3,49 €. It is also possible to subscribe to thePremium subscription (annual cost: 20,99 €) which offers the possibility to access the mode supermassiccio: a package that offers access to high-definition zoom, catalogs of deep-sky stars 50 times larger, and real tours within space.
After installing and starting the app, press the button I got it located at the bottom and then tap the button of the compass, to automatically align Sky Guide with the portion of the sky visible in your position. “Magically” the firmament will appear before your eyes and you will be able to scan the sky by viewing over two and a half million stars. Few other apps can boast such a large and rich catalog.
By swiping with two fingers on the screen, starting from top to bottom, you can adapt the display of the stars to the light pollution present in your area, so as to more easily identify the celestial bodies of your interest. Also, if you tap on a star, planet, satellite or any other celestial body, one will appear (I) which, when pressed, offers access to a detailed article that will tell you the story of the celestial body you just touched.
If you tap the button Search (the magnifying glass icon at the bottom right), you can decide to search for a particular celestial body by selecting it from one of the available categories (eg. Constellations, Stars, Comete, etc) or by typing its name in the search bar displayed on the screen. Useful, right?
More apps for stargazing
There are many others apps to watch the stars that you can download to your smartphone or tablet. The solutions listed in the next paragraphs could also be for you, so I suggest you evaluate the possibility of installing them on your device with (or instead of) the apps mentioned above.
- Sky Map (Android) - this free app is quite simple to use, thanks to the intuitive interface that characterizes each of its menus. No internet connection is required to navigate the night sky, simply point your device to the sky and, in no time at all, you will be able to recognize the celestial bodies present in the firmament.
- SkySafari 5 (Android) - this app is also particularly complete and offers the possibility of looking at over 120.000 stars, as well as 200 nebulae, galaxies and star clusters. One of its strong points is represented by the sounds that accompany the user during the "spatial visit", which makes the user experience even more immersive. It's free.
- Star rover (Android / iOS) - this app is characterized by a rather simple and essential interface that allows the user to focus his attention only on the starry sky, which can be viewed on the display. Star Rover can be purchased for € 2,09 on Android and for € 2,29 on iOS.
- Stellarium Mobile Sky Map (Android / iOS / iPadOS) - this is one of the coolest apps for tracking stars and celestial bodies. Stellarium Mobile Sky Map boasts a catalog of over 600.000 stars and also allows you to see all the planets of the solar system up close. To download this app you need to pay 2,99 euros from the Google Play Store and 3,49 euros from the App Store.