With Jupiter and Venus lining up in a spectacular, rare event this week, it seems only fitting to make this week’s app revolve around heavenly bodies. How often have you looked up at night and tried to find a Dipper, or Orion, or any of the many constellations that are supposedly there?
I have to admit that, apart from Orion’s Belt, which I’ve always managed to locate, and one of the Dippers, I’ve basically scanned the stars and been none the wiser 10 minutes later. What I’d really appreciate is lines to appear and join them up like I’ve seen in books, so I can recognize Hercules, Pegasus, Gemini and similar with ease.
Of course, no such thing will happen, so really what amateur astronomers like myself need is an app to open our eyes to the wonders of the universe. You may have read my review of the ISS Spotter app a while back, which I still use on a regular basis. This is a good introduction to being interested in the night sky. The next step is to download an app that will reveal planets, stars, satellites and galaxies.
The SkyView app is an excellent one to try. It’s quite comprehensive, and best of all, it’s free! What more motivation do you need? Get thee the SkyView app and get ready to start exploring.
How it works
When you first download it, it will ask for access to your camera and your location. The location is particularly important. If you let it think you’re in Australia or Bora Bora, you’ll be looking for constellations that aren’t visible.
It takes you through a brief slideshow tutorial, which is really all you need to get the gist of how it works. Then you’re ready to start using it.
Take your device outside and start moving it around to see what it can find. Note that you can do this in the daytime, but you’ll have to take the app’s word for what’s up there, as you won’t be able to see it yourself.
In the center of the screen you’ll see a dot surrounded by a circle. You can move this onto different points of light to see what they are, as the app will give you the names of individual bodies. It will also give you the name of any constellations of which they are a part.
If you’d like to search to see what’s visible, rather than swinging your device back and forth over your head, you can tap on the magnifying glass symbol on the right hand side of the screen. This opens up a search facility.
Either type in the name of the constellation, planet or object you want to find, or use its menu options: Solar System, Stars, Constellations, Brightest Satellites, Nebulae & Galaxies and Messier Objects. Tap of any of these, and you’ll see a list of names. Those highlighted should be visible, as they are above the horizon at the time you’re looking. Those greyed out will not be visible, as they are below the horizon.
At the bottom of the list is the “Get More Space Objects” option. This will take you to the SkyView Shop, where you can spend a little bit of money to find much more. There are bundles to purchase, or you can upgrade to the SkyView Premium Version, which only costs $1.99. It’s always nice to support developers of educational and interesting apps such as this one, so if you have the dinero, why not splash out?
So let’s say that Jupiter should be visible. Once you choose it from the menu, that circle in the middle of your screen will suddenly have an arrow attached to it. Simply move your device in the direction of the arrow, and it will lead you to Jupiter. Isn’t that fantastic? No more wondering if what you’re looking at is a planet, or a star, or an alien ship. This app removes all the guesswork!
You can also mark celestial objects as favorites, and visit them at any time at the bottom of the search listing.
On the left hand side of the screen there’s a camera icon so you can take a picture and share it via the usual means, or save it to your device. There is also an icon of three lines below the camera that when selected, takes you to a host of settings that can be adjusted to suit your requirements.
When I tried it
Hilariously enough, I was in my bedroom, holding the iPad up to the ceiling when I first tried this. As it doesn’t actually need a clear line of sight to the sky, I was still able to see what star constellations were around, even if I wasn’t willing to drag my lazy self outside.
The next night, I actually ventured onto the lane in front of my house. Luckily we have very little light pollution in my area, so it was the perfect viewing spot. I held the iPad above my head, and started looking around. Sure enough, the app began to bring up constellations and gave me information on stars as I slowly moved it about.
I used the search option to find planets, and the arrow led me to each one above the horizon. Helpful hint: if the arrow is leading you to move in a direction contrary to what your spine can handle, move your body rather than turning into a pretzel.
I found this app very easy to use, and I thoroughly enjoyed pinpointing planets and stars. I can only imagine how fun this will be for parents with children. One of its best features? It does not require WiFi to work!
Honestly, it is well worth downloading the free version, and then if you like what you see, splurge and spend $1.99 for even more discoveries.
- Cost: Free (Premium Version is $1.99)
- Seller: Terminal Eleven LLC
- Devices: iOS and Android
- Rating: E for Everyone
Free version available. Easy to use. Doesn’t require WiFi.
A sore neck if you become addicted.