Five Android apps to heighten your stargazing experience

From planning tools to observatories to planetariums, a universe of great Android apps is available for astronomy buffs.

Spring brings warm nights that are perfect for stargazing. For those hobby astronomers who live in areas with little light pollution, studying the heavens can be as simple as stepping out the door. But those who live in urban areas may need to plan ahead for maximized visibility. These five apps help with scheduling stargazing for when interesting cosmic events are going to happen and when visibility will be at its best, and they will help you make sense of the cosmos once you're there. Go beyond Google's Sky Map and make the most of your stargazing experience.

Note: This list is also available as a photo gallery.

1: Meteor Shower Calendar

Meteor Shower Calendar offers an easy-to-read list of upcoming meteor showers (Figure A). The app is highly customizable as far as setting time and date formats, color themes, and large or regular text layout. Particularly useful is the notification feature that emails you about peak viewing days. Clicking on a listed meteor shower brings up additional information regarding the moon's phase, meteor velocity, and other information about the anticipated meteor shower peak. Meteor Shower Calendar also has easy links to weather forecasts and Internet entries about each meteor shower. This app works with the SkEye app. For a free app, Meteor Shower Calendar packs a lot of information and customization options.

Figure A

Meteor Shower Calendar

2: SkEye Planetarium

SkEye Planetarium has both handheld and telescope settings to help you find cosmic objects of interest. This app also features a gyroscope to aid with alignment. Altitude and azimuth data is clearly visible at the top of the screen, along with declination degrees (Figure B). The search function guides your device, and your telescope when used in tandem, to a selected object. The Settings -> Search menu offers an easily navigated list of stars, solar system objects, messiers, and constellations that may be sorted by name or by viewing ease. SkEye Planetarium is free and makes finding celestial objects as easy as breathing the cool night air.

Figure B

SkEye Planetarium

3: Astro Panel

Astro Panel is a weather app for astronomers. The simple detail view shows daily information on the sunrise and sunset, cloud cover, visibility (labeled "seeing"), transparency, humidity, wind, temperature, and the moon's phase and altitude (Figure C). The More menu offers additional options to help plan astronomy outings. The Overview app view  offers a visual representation of the sun and moon positions and cloud cover as they relate to your exact location. Astro Panel is free, and it's really useful for planning purposes.

Figure C

Astro Panel

4: Star Chart

Star Chart is especially neat for hobby astronomers under age 18, or those who want information but not necessarily spacial measurements. One of my favorite features is the way Star Chart draws in the pictures of the constellations, so you can see what the original viewers envisioned in those star configurations (Figure D). This really brings astronomy to life for the younger crowd. More specific information, like azimuth and distance, is available by clicking on celestial objects. Some objects, like our sun, also have real photographs of their surfaces. Use the search function to move to specific objects. Star Chart sells on the Google Play market for $2.99, and it's worth it if you are introducing somebody to the joys of viewing the cosmos.

Figure D

Star Chart

5: Mobile Observatory

Mobile Observatory packs a lot of options into an app that sells on the Google Play market for $3.99. The main menu is laid out well for fast and easy navigation (Figure E). The object list  shows objects that are visible from your current location. From there, use the calendar to get information on past and future cosmic movements. The events menu helps you plan your night outings in advance by listing upcoming events of interest and detailed information on visibility and timing for your location. Additional data includes Julian Dates for some objects and size data on others. Mobile Observatory is a great astronomy app for the more seasoned celestial viewer.

Figure E

Mobile Observatory

Other picks?

Do you have a great astronomy app that helps you plan viewing parties and understand the heavens above? Do you still prefer Google's Sky Map for looking up astronomy information quickly? Share your astronomy app insights with us in the comments.

By Nicole Nash

Nicole Bremer Nash is Director of Content and Social Media for HuTerra, where she uses SEO and social media to promote charitable organizations in their community-building and fundraising efforts. She enjoys volunteering, arts and crafts, and conduct...