written by: Balachandar Radhakrishnan•edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 5/31/2010
Are you an astronomy enthusiast? A fervent star gazer? How about we make that iPhone you carry into the best astronomy knowledge base you ever had. That's right we'll take a look at the best astronomy apps available on the iPhone and let you make the decision.
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Astronomy apps on the iPhone
Not long ago star gazing involved just curious minds with amateur astronomy telescopes staring at the night sky. Lately the iPhone has revolutionized how science and facts are introduced to curious minds all over the world. Astronomy apps on the iPhone have put fabulous applications with vast knowledge into the hands of every aspiring astronomer and have made star gazing a more fruitful and fascinating hobby. So, let's take a look at the top astronomy apps available on the iPhone and help you decide which one you should be buying and which apps come under the category of best astronomy app for the iPhone.
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Star Walk for the iPhone
Star Walk is a star gazing app like no other. The application feels very natural on the iPhone platform and performs flawlessly. So what can you do with the app? A bunch of things like learning constellations, stars, planets and more. So you think it's just another "google earthish" app! No, Star Walk adds in great features like location awareness, which makes it an awesome stargazing app. On iPhone 3G and later models using the location feature Star Walk can give a clearly labelled night sky letting you easily identify what you're looking at. The app also makes use of the compass feature, if your model of the iPhone supports it, and brings up an exact night sky of your current location. Looking up constellations is just a matter of tapping on the star you want and voilà! Your constellation outline comes up on your iPhone. A feature which colors your whole screen dim red so as to preserve your night vision to gaze at the sky is just a wonderful finishing touch to an app that is a must have for all astro gazers. Selected as one of the best apps of 2009 by Apple, Star Walk is definitely worth the $2.99 it sells for. If you are searching for the best astronomy app for the iPhone, Star Walk may just be the one! Try the complete review of the Star Walk app at Macworld.
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There can never be too many stargazing apps and Pocket Universe is a worthy competitor to Star Walk. Pocket Universe works in a very similar manner to Star Walk, once you launch the app the geolocation information is collected and with the iPhone's GPS and compass features the app orients the night sky on your iPhone with all the necessary labels. You can track through the night sky virtually on your iPhone, locate stars and constellations, and obtain information about planetary bodies. The "time travel mode" on the app is pretty cool, it allows you to look at how the night sky will appear on a future date. Pocket Universe also keeps its users informed of any expected meteor showers, lunar phases and similar celestial events so that you can get a first hand view on a telescope at home or at an observatory.The Tonight's Sky report is a great feature which keeps the app's users informed on all the events that will occur on any given day like, planetary visibility, moonphase and several other snippets of useful information. Pocket Universe also incorporates the "night vision mode" (meaning a reddish dimmed display to keep your eyes ready to focus on the night sky). A well thought out and designed app, Pocket Universe is a wonderful alternative to Star Walk and should increase your astronomy skill set considerably.
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Continuing our look at the best astronomy app for the iPhone, we take a look at apps like Starmap, Pocket Universe and Planisphere. These apps provide a fabulous interface with easy pinch and zoom, GPS based location awareness and orientation of nightsky with the iPhone's built in compass etc. Any feature that can be thought necessary for the best astronomy app for the iPhone is included in the above mentioned apps and some more well planned features have also been implemented. Read on to learn more.
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My first experience with SkyOrb was on my Mac and I have to say that I fell in love immediately. Sky Orb brings in a 3D element to your experience and its Google Earth feel is much appreciated. Now SkyOrb is available on the iPhone platform providing the same immersive 3D Planetarium experience on a phone. SkyOrb on the iPhone pretty much replicates the desktop interface and users of the desktop application wiil feel right at home. The 3D experience on the iPhone brings the planets and other celestial bodies to life. The included sun clock, 3D starmap, 3D planetarium and ephemeris are done well and come in handy for a star gazer. The application makes complete use of the GPS and compass capabilities of the iPhone to bring a virtual nightsky onto your phone as you would see it from the given position. SkyOrb is a definite candidate for the list of best astronomy apps for the iPhone.
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Starmap for the iPhone
Imagine all the features you would require in a star gazing app and then some more, you've got Starmap. Though at first you might not realize how much power this app has got, sooner or later it strikes you that Starmap is loaded! As with most stargazing apps Starmap uses pinch and zoom gestures in the best possible way, bringing you an astounding amount of data about the night sky that you're under. It uses the compass to orient the sky view, allows customized display of star maps and celestial bodies, a search interface....the whole nine yards. Well the app doesn't stop there, it goes on to offer a logbook to take notes, a torch light feature, variable display brightness, and a visibility filter allows selection of astronomical bodies or events visible to the naked eye, binoculars, telescopes, time and location etc. One might expect that with such a truckload of features the app wouldn't be easy to use, on the contrary I felt really comfortable using it and quickly learned to use the app's features with relative ease. If you're looking to buy one of the best astronomy apps capable of satisfying all your curiosity about the sky and everything around it, then Starmap is the way to go. At a price of $18 for the pro version of this app, don't hesitate if you are an avid stargazer Starmap is worth it.
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Planisphere for the iPhone
If you are finding the above mentioned apps like Starmap and Star Walk too dense with information or plain too expensive, then Planisphere has the answer. As with all the other apps Planisphere allows pinch and zoom viewing of the night sky depicting about 88 constellations, 9096 stars, the sun & moon etc. The app performs brilliantly on the iPhone and is capable of utilizing the GPS, accelerometer and compass to orient the night sky on its display. It provides a very simple and limited interface, since its feature set is not as comprehensive as the other apps. A budding amateur astronomer will be right at home with Planisphere since the app does not flood the user with features and info but rather provides a basic overview of the night sky and its celestial bodies. The display is very clean and also includes features such as a night view in red to maintain the viewer's night vision, and night sky depiction on past and future dates and times. Planisphere is available in the iTunes store at $0.99 and that's an awesome price for an entry level astronomy app on the iPhone. If you're not sure whether you have the taste for astronomy or just want to try it out, Planisphere is definitely worth mentioning in the best astronomy apps for the iPhone category.