Astronomy Apps for iPad or iPhone/iTouch

Edit: I have updated the images and added more data. Thanks to Jared at Utah Astronomy for teaching me how to capture images off the iPad. I believe they are clearer and more easily seen. Click on them for larger images. Thanks again Jared.

I've had this idea to go through some of the iPad/iPhone/iTouch apps but wanted to post my last observation as that is the real purpose of my blog. With the moon starting to get in the way of DSO's and weather still an issue, I'll post up here my review of several astronomy apps.


The first one is a newer app called Star Walk. Star Walk opens with a listing of the the following planets with their rises time and setting time and their elevation. Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The Sun's rise, day length and sets at times are also given. Finally the app gives the stage of the moon, First Quarter, Waxing Gibbous etc. and the percent of full the moon is. It does it for the previous day, the current day, and the next two days. In the upper right is a date panal that you can advance or go back in time to see what the rise and set times are for these objects, or for the stage of the moon. I only wish they had given the moon's rise and sets time as well. Below is an image that shows this opening screen.

The program allows you to zoom in and out by either pinching your fingers together or widening them apart. If you find an object you want to see, in the upper left hand corner is an information button as an i. Click on it after you have tapped on your object and you will get the information on that object. You get the RA, DEC, Azm, Alt. type of object, distance, visual magnitude and constellation, and a really good amount of information on that object.

In the bottom right corner is is a button with three levels on it and that displays a range of options. You can see that in this next picture.

It brings up a calendar button on top that will provide astronomical information to you like when new moon is (4/2/11 at 6:00p.m.) or conjunction of Sun and Jupiter or of Jupiter and Mercury. There's one for my birthday, the 20th of April for the Lyrid Meteor Shower to remind you to try and view these from April 16th to April 26th. A late one but a good one. A decent planning tool to have as it is all in one place.

Sky Live is that initial page that shows the rising and setting times of the planets and the Sun, and the current stage of the moon.

The Picture of the Day is basically like the Astronomy Picture of the Day with information. Nice to have it. This is a fun item, not necessary but fun. Here is April 12th, 2011 Picture of the Day celebrating Yuri's 50th anniversary of the first manned flight in space.

Bookmarks allows you to plan an observing session by finding items and bookmarking them and then later going back to them. You get to name and then save the bookmark and can later delete it. This is a necessary item for someone who wants to use this program for observing.

Home Location simply shows you where your at and provides the latitude and longitude for your position. You can pick other locations as well though I haven't figured out if you can add new locations.

Settings allows you to set it to Night Mode. Warning, Night Mode is still bright and I would recommend another layer of non-permanent material to lighten up the display. Here you can turn on or off the constellations. The constellations are displayed with their stick figure and with a picture. I would like to be able to get rid of the silly picture behind them. Satellites allows you to see and identify satellites that come into the FOV. Next is the Telrad display which is very helpful if you use one of these wonderful items. Sounds and music are just that, sounds made by the program and then music is some spacing music. I turn them off to save on battery life. Here's one more screen shot:

Here is an example of Night Mode.

Here is a shot showing that you can hunt down some of the NGC items.

When you find an object you want, the program does display a nice image of it and information all about it as this screen shot shows.

A few items. This is a nice program, very nice and I think a beginner would really enjoy it as would some long time observers. The red light is bright, be aware of that. An adjustment of the red brightness would be helpful but I could turn the brightness down on the iPad. It also has a feature of an auto-compass. If you gently shake the iPad the program gives you an horizon with everything dark underneath it and everything above it in real night time viewing. You can then move the iPad around and identify the various constellations. Once there you can tap on the area and it will freeze it allowing you to zoom in for objects you may want to view. The main NGC and of course the Messier are there but I am not too sure yet if I would use it in place of an atlas or a printed star chart. I need some more field experience to do that.

Overall, I like and enjoy this program and recommend it, with a caveat. There is another app I like even better and that is my next one. I also need more time in the field with this but I do see a major plus in using this at public star parties to help people learn the night sky.


This app I first got on my iTouch and it carried over to my iPad of course. StarMap Pro can actually be used with a telescope that has tracking to find objects for you. Like Star Walk it has a compass which allows you to use it in the field to adjust to the sky according to the direction you point it at. When you get where you want to be, tap the screen and the compass stops working so you can really get in close using the zoom feature. The features are your typical Apple App feature. To zoom in you bring two fingers together, to zoom out, move to fingers away from each other.


The red light is dimmer than in Star Walk, and you can dim it some more by dimming your iPad. By dimming the iPad to its lowest setting and then putting on the night vision under MORE, I get a level that is decent to me. StarMap Pro is controlled on the bottom of the screen when it is vertical (I should mention I like to use both programs horizontally faced, but in StarMap Pro you must go to the vertical face to get the features to pop up).

At the bottom in the image, from left to right are Planets, Constellations, Stars, Tonight, More. I'll cover each one, one at a time. Also, as you go to More (as I have in the image below, you will change what is on the bottom to whatever is in that row of the More that you've hit. Want to go back to Planets, Constellations, Stars, Tonight and More? Simply click on planets and then go back to the main screen. The default though is Planets, Constellations, Stars, Tonight, More.

Planets: In here is a tab for the Sun, Moon and each of the eight planets, and the following dwarf planets: Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Eris, Makemake, 1996 TL66, Varuna, Ixion, Huya and several others I won't list. If the item is in bold, it is visible. If it is not in bold, it is not visible. If you click the arrow to the right of the object you get the transit time for the date, the set time, rise time, what constellation it is in, its magnitude, distance, Altitude, Azimuth, RA, Dec., etc. Lets just say A LOT of information! Helpful for having the rising and setting of the moon, its phase and location and of planets you may want to view.

Constellations brings up all of the constellations and which one are viewable from your location. Again an arrow at the right brings up a table of when the constellation is visible in military time. Very useful for planning a session. You can set an alarm so the iPad reminds you of when the constellation is visible (helps so you know when to go and look there since we never get caught up in what we do). On the Alarm you can set the rise time, the transit time or the set time to have the alarm go off. The Timer tab allows you if your using the program to control your scope to set how long of an image to take.

The Stars tab is nearly identical to the constellation tabs.

The Tonight Tab at the bottom is very, very useful. Here you can see when major objects are going to be visible and at what time.

The More tab could take the rest of this blog to post on. It has a tab for Planets, Constellations, Stars, Tonight, Galaxies, Clusters, Nebulae, ID's, Catalogue (lets you search for a specific object by its catalogue number), Web Search (yep, you can search the web for more information if your connected), Meterors, Comets, Compass (turns it on or off), Optics (if your controlling a scope), Telrad (puts the circles up on the screen), Brightness (you control the brightness of the twilight and the stars), Photos (shows you photos taken of the object your observing), Zoom In, Zoom Out (does what it says), Telescope (set up your scope to work with the software), Featured (shows you featured items), Alarms (covered, lets you know when things are happening so you don't forget them), Timer (for photos) and a Logbook to keep track of what you've done.

In finding DSO's you can do it by object, constellation or catalog number. I'll use open clusters to demonstrate. You can look clusters up by constellation or by their catalog number if you have it. Here are some samples:

This screen shot will show you how they ID the NGC catalog. They do the same for the Messier and IC.

As I mentioned, this will help track down comets as well. Select the magnitude you want and the program shows you what comets are available and by chart when you can see them.

Like Meteors this is what it does:

The one feature for me that just doesn't work, is the logbook. I have my own observing form which is on my blog here, developed from the RCAS handbook and I really like it. I would love it if I could create such a form in here and then log it and sync it over to the computer. Here is the logbook:

For the money in my book, this is the program a serious amateur would use in the field. Is it perfect, nope and this is just my opinion but it is a very well put together program. The star field goes relatively deep, and you can use it to help find a lot of items in the field.

LUAN (accent over the U)

This is the last one for this entry. I have about 10 more apps to go through and will space them out. This program is called Luan with an accent line over the u. It is a moon phase program with some information on it. When I press on the app, the current month comes up with the phases on the moon on the screen. There are two arrows in the upper right that let me go back or forward. This is useful in planning when I want to go out observing DSO's. Here is how that screen looks:

By clicking on a day I get the date, the exact phase of the moon for that day and the moon is shown illuminated so it matches. It is a nice way to teach the moon phases and that the waxing moon is illuminated on the right while the waning is illuminated on the left (this is a waning crescent).

These two options are available by clicking on the Lumation tab on the bottom. Clicking on the Gregorian tab brings up a table with when New Moon, First Quarter, Last Quarter and New Moon are. Here is an image of that.

If your into lunar observing, this program can really help you plan some observing sessions or if your into DSO's it can help you to know when to hope for good weather and head into the field.

A few more quick apps that I have to mention.


Every dreamed your up with a shuttle group and your doing a space walk? While this free app allows you to play that your an astronaut and you have to use your jet pack to get back to the shuttle and to perform other missions. The graphics are pretty good, not little kid type and though not overly difficult, it is still a fun game to do. You can look at yourself or be looking out your visor.


This is another free app that lets you see the sun basically in real time through NASA. Lots of information here and from what I've seen, I've liked it though I need to spend some more time here. The images here are taken within 1 to 3 minutes of viewing. Pretty cool app here if you like looking at our nearest neighboring star and don't have a solar telescope. Great teaching tool


A must have free app that shows Hubble's top 100 shots. Well worth it and great for those nights or weeks when you can't get out. You can view the image with the information showing or hide the information. Each picture has an information page that is usually several paragraphs long. I highly recommend this.

A sample and then with the information underneath it:

Okay, one more as a bonus that is just run. Your piloting the shuttle and it is called Shuttle Dock. Take a turn at this free app before its probably going the way of the shuttle. Won't win for excitement but its cool to pretend your flying the shuttle. It's free so it has ads.

Like I said, I have plenty of apps to go through but this will be a good start. I'll play around more with some and then post some more recommendations out there.

1 comment:

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