Have you ever been looking at the night sky, noticed an exceptionally bright star and wondered to yourself, “is that Jupiter?”
Or perhaps you have wondered if a certain planet is visible, and where in the sky it would be?
If you have, then there is an app you can download called Star & Planet Finder. It uses your phone’s camera and superimposes images of the planets, the moon and the sun in their appropriate locations.
This means you can point your phone camera at that bright star and find out if it really was Jupiter.
It works in the day as well, so if you have ever wondered where Pluto is right now relative to you, you can find out.
You can also buy optional add-ons, to be able to view stars, constellations and satellites.
An alternative to Star & Planet Finder is Star Chart.
This app does not use the camera but instead shows a star map, which moves around depending on where you point your phone.
This app shows the planets, and also includes stars and constellations.
There is a lot more detail in this app, and you can still point your phone at a star or planet to find out what it is. However it is quite heftier than Star & Planet Finder and uses a lot more battery, so I still like to sometimes use Star & Planet Finder as it is a bit easier to work with, plus I really enjoy the fact it uses the phone’s camera. I have both installed and use both frequently.
Another app which I use for casual night sky observation is ISS Spotter.
With this app you can find out what part of the world the International Space Station is right now, and find out when the ISS is going to make a visible pass over your location.
You can use the app to find out exactly what angle the ISS will appear from, what angle of the sky it will fly over, and where it will disappear, as well as the timings for all these events to the second.
It will also point out whether the pass will be exceptionally bright or not. Some passes happen very close to the horizon and so the station is dim and hard to spot, other times it will fly directly over you just after sunset and is brilliantly bright.
Before I started using this app I missed probably hundreds of bright passes of the ISS, now I know when they will happen.
Of course it doesn’t account for weather, so your very bright pass might occur when it is overcast, which is always unfortunate!
You can download ISS Spotter from the App Store.
I am always on the lookout for cool space or observation apps, so if you know of any more, let me know!