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The 19 Best Astronomy Apps for Stargazing

astronomy apps
|Software|14 Comments

In this post, I’ve rounded up a list of useful astronomy apps for your mobile phone or tablet. If you’re looking to inject a little more astronomy into your iPhone or Android Device (I personally use a Samsung Galaxy S10), the following list of apps should come in very handy.

I’ve reached out to the astrophotography and astronomy community on twitter to find out which astronomy apps are the most popular. I was absolutely astonished to find out just how many amazing astronomy apps I hadn’t heard of before, that I now use and enjoy on a daily basis. 

In particular, there were some incredibly useful weather forecasting apps I was not taking advantage of (such as Astrospheric) to help plan my astrophotography sessions in the backyard. 

Astropheric Android App

The Astrospheric Astronomy Weather Forecast App (Android).

For other apps, such as Stellarium, seeing how many other people were using the app in the astrophotography community helped validate its relevance and practicality in 2020. 

For each mobile app on this list, I have stated whether it is available in the Apple App Store or the Google Play store. Some of these astronomy apps are only available for one or the other. 

I have also included the publisher of the app, category, and description of the application so you can get an idea of what to expect before downloading it. I have not included the price of the app (because this may change), but have included whether it is currently free or not. 

stargazing apps

Astronomy Apps for Stargazing

Whether you use these resources to assist you in stargazing at the cottage, or a quick observation session with your telescope, these astronomy apps can improve your overall experience. They can help you better prepare for the weather, and find out when key astronomical events are taking place. 

Key Uses:

  • Astronomical Weather Forecasts
  • Planning a Telescope Observing Session
  • Planning a Photo Project (Astrophotography)
  • Tracking the Movement of the Planets
  • Aurora Alerts
  • ISS Passes
  • Identifying Galaxies and Nebulae
  • Preserving Night Vision
  • Aligning your Telescope
  • Learning About Astronomy

Due to the evolving nature of mobile apps and the sheer number of new astronomy apps popping up each day, I have not used all of these astronomy apps personally. Consider this post to be more of a round-up of the most popular apps, with good reviews and ratings throughout the astronomy community. 

The goal of this post is not to rate the apps against each other, but to provide a useful resource for amateur astronomy enthusiasts. I’ve included a brief description for each app from the author, and you can click the app name for more information about each one. 

Without further adieu, here is a list (in no particular order) of the best astronomy apps for your iPhone or Android phone. 

Stellarium

Stellarium

  • Created By: Noctua Software
  • Operating System: iPhone, Android
  • Category: Planetarium
  • Paid or Free: Free, Paid Pro Version

Description:

“Stellarium Mobile is a planetarium app that shows exactly what you see when you look up at the stars.

Identify stars, constellations, planets, comets, satellites (such as the ISS), and other deep sky objects in real-time in the sky above you in just a few seconds, just by pointing the phone at the sky.

This award-winning astronomy application has an easy to use and minimalist user interface, that makes it one of the best astronomical applications for adults and children who want to explore the night sky.”

Stellarium is an extremely popular planetarium app for mobile phones. I also enjoy the desktop and web versions when planning my astrophotography imaging sessions at home. 

Polar Scope Align Pro

Polar Scope Align Pro

  • Created By: Dimitrios Kechagias
  • Operating System: iPhone
  • Category: Polar Alignment Tool, Utilities
  • Paid or Free: Free (In-app purchases)

Description:

“Polar Scope Align will calculate the position of Polaris or σ Octantis in your Polar Scope reticle for your location (using your phone’s GPS or entering a location), allowing a quick and accurate polar alignment.

It is one of the few programs that are accurate in lower latitudes by correcting for atmospheric refraction (so expect results to agree only with precise software and not most simplistic “polar align” apps).”

I have good things about this polar alignment tool for equatorial telescope mount owners. I have been using a similar app called Polar Finder (listed further down the post) for many years on my Samsung Galaxy S10 (Android) phone. 

SkySafari 6 ProSky Safari 6 Pro

  • Created By: Simulation Curriculum Corp.
  • Operating System: iPhone, Android
  • Category: Planetarium, Education
  • Paid or Free: Paid

Description:

SkySafari 6 Pro will revolutionize your astronomical viewing experience. It has the largest database of any astronomy app, includes every solar system object ever discovered, offers unparalleled accuracy, flawless telescope control, Augmented Reality (AR) mode, and provides the very best experience under the stars when you depend on it.”

I downloaded SkySafari 5 Pro with plans to use the functionality with my ASIair camera control device and telescope mount. I must admit, I have put this task off for a long time and have not tried it out yet.

PhotoPills

Photopills

  • Created By: PhotoPills S.L.
  • Operating System: iPhone, Android
  • Category: Photography, Planning
  • Paid or Free: Paid

Description:

“Unlock your creative potential! Discover how to easily turn any Sun, Moon and Milky Way scene you imagine into a real picture… and start shooting truly legendary photos every time you pick up the camera!

Whether your passion is to capture beautiful landscapes, immortalize the infinite night sky, surprise the bride and the groom in their happiest day… or to travel the world, PhotoPills will make you love exploring new artistic possibilities to tell visual stories in a way it wasn’t possible before.”

Here is a recent video shared by the PhotoPills team about how to use the app to help plan a Milky Way photography session.

Clear Outside

Clear Outside

  • Created By: First Light Optics
  • Operating System: iPhone, Android
  • Category: Weather Forecast, Planning
  • Paid or Free: Free

Description:

“Reliable weather forecasts for astronomers with an emphasis on cloud cover. Updated hourly. Frequent hourly updates are important because often the clear spell between showers provides excellent seeing and 30-minutes under a clear sky with a grab-&-go telescope is pure gold!”

Clear Outside has been my go-to resource for the most accurate (and sometimes depressing) astronomy weather forecast for the night. It’s not perfect, but in most cases, it’s pretty realistic.

Astrospheric

  • Created By: Daniel Fiordalis
  • Operating System: iPhone, Android
  • Category: Astronomy Weather Forecast
  • Paid or Free: Free

Description:

“Astrospheric is the most advanced forecasting service for North American astronomers. Using the amazing astronomy data produced by the Canadian Meteorological Center, NOAA, and more, Astrospheric quickly produces a highly accurate 48-hour forecast for any location in the continental United States or Canada.”

This one was new to me, and so far, I absolutely love it. You can dig deep into the weather map layers to get a better idea of the type of cloud cover in your location. As stated in the description, this app is currently only useful to North American users. 

meteoblue

Meteoblue

  • Created By: meteoblue
  • Operating System: iPhone, Android
  • Category: Weather forecast, Planning
  • Paid or Free: Free

Description:

“Meteoblue shows high precision weather forecasts combined with a beautiful, simple and easy to use design. Weather forecasts can be requested for any place on Earth easily and comfortably.”

I recently installed meteoblue for a realistic weather forecast to help me better prepare for upcoming stargazing sessions. For all of the weather forecasting apps to function properly, you’ll need to allow the app to know your location. 

I enjoy this weather app over a more traditional one (such as the weather network). Where this app really shines is with the satellite imagery. You can watch developing cloud patterns and movement. Highly recommended!

NightCap

NightCap

  • Created By: Realtime Dreams Limited
  • Operating System: iPhone
  • Category: Photography
  • Paid or Free: Paid

Description:

“NightCap Camera is a powerful app that takes amazing low light and night photos, videos and 4K time-lapse. Long exposure produces beautiful photos in low light and unique Astronomy modes capture the stars, Northern Lights (Aurora) and more!”

Star Walk

Star Walk

  • Created By: Vito Technology Inc.
  • Operating System: iPhone, Android
  • Category: Education
  • Paid or Free: Free, In-App Purchases

Description:

“Star Walk is the most beautiful stargazing app you’ve ever seen on a mobile device. It will become your interactive guide to the night sky, following your every movement in real-time and allowing you to explore over 200,000 celestial bodies with extensive information.”

SkyView Lite

SkyView Lite

  • Created By: Terminal Eleven LLC
  • Operating System: iPhone, Android
  • Category: Planetarium, Education
  • Paid or Free: Free. In-App Purchases

Description:

“SkyView® Lite brings stargazing to everyone! Simply point your iPhone, iPad, or iPod at the sky to identify stars, constellations, satellites, and more.”

I recently installed this astronomy app on my Android phone, and the first thing that impressed me was the augmented reality function. Rather than placing a planetarium overlay that covers the screen, SkyView places a translucent overlay over the camera view of your phone, and I must say, it’s really cool. 

The presentation of the constellation overlays and descriptions are beautifully done. Expect the “Lite” (free) version of the app to deliver messages about upgrading quite frequently. 

The Moon – Phases Calendar

The Moon: Phases Calendar

  • Created By: Vitalii Gryniuk
  • Operating System: iPhone, Android
  • Category: Moon Phase Calendar
  • Paid or Free: Free, Paid “Pro” version

Description:

“Moon Phases Calendar – universal lunar calendar for any Locations from 0001AD to 2100 years.

The lunar calendar is one of the oldest calendars in modern society. A lunar month can only be 29 or 30 days long. This is different than a solar-based calendar, where the length is arbitrarily fixed.”

I have had a number of moon phase calendars installed on my Android phone in the past, and they all seem to work well enough. The problem with some of them, however, is the number of ads placed in the app, and the UX design.

I found this one to have the nicest design out of all of the moon phase apps available, with easy access to a monthly calendar (available in the Pro version).

Gas Giants

  • Created By: Software Bisque
  • Operating System: iPhone
  • Category: Planetarium, Education
  • Paid or Free: Free

Description:

“Gas Giants lets you peer through a simulated telescope to observe Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune and their major moons, as they appear right now, or at any date and time.”

This is a very cool app created by the team responsible for the Paramount line of equatorial telescope mounts. This is great for anyone planning to photograph planets and would like to see their current view (great red spot, moons, tilt of Saturn, etc.)

ISS Detector

ISS Detector

  • Created By: Derk Vrijdag
  • Operating System: iPhone, Android
  • Category: Planning, Education
  • Paid or Free: Free, In-App Purchases

Description:

“ISS Detector will tell you when and where to look for the ISS. You get an alarm a few minutes before a pass. You will never miss it. ISS Detector will also check if the weather conditions are right. A clear sky is perfect for spotting.”

I know there are a lot of people interested in capturing the space station passing overhead. To do this, you must know exactly where and when the event will happen, and this app can help you plan for that moment. 

I’ve caught a limited number of space station passes myself, but would love to start paying more attention to this activity. 

ISS pass

Use this app to send you an alarm before an upcoming ISS pass. 

NightShift: Stargazing & Astronomy

stargazing app

  • Created By: Waddensky Astronomy
  • Operating System: Android
  • Category: Education, Planning
  • Paid or Free: Free

Description:

“Nightshift is the ideal free night sky app for the experienced amateur astronomer as well as the casual stargazer. Nightshift helps you find perfect nights for stargazing, assists you in observing your favourite planets, meteor showers and deep-sky objects and keeps you up-to-date about the celestial events in tonight’s sky.”

I originally included the SkyWeek app from Sky & Telescope on this list, but realized that it has not been updated in some time. The NightShift stargazing and astronomy app is a great replacement.

It delivers useful information at a glance including the sunset time, observing conditions, moon phase, visible planets, and even meteor showers. I really like this app, but it’s only available for Android users at the moment.

stargazing and astronomy app

NightShift is one of my favorite new astronomy apps (Android only).

DarkLight

DarkLight

  • Created By: Petro Julkunen
  • Operating System: Android
  • Category: Astronomy Observing Aid
  • Paid or Free: Free

Description:

“DarkLight app allows you to use your phone as a source of light in the dark without your eyes having to adjust for light. This simple, quick and easy app allows you to analyze the lighting conditions via light sensor, and displays the information on the screen when required.”

If you’ve ever been to a star party with strict rules about white light, you’ll know that having an app like this on your phone is essential. You can also help preserve your night vision when doing some casual visual observing with your binoculars or telescope in the backyard.

Polar Finder

Polar Finder

  • Created By: TechHead
  • Operating System: Android
  • Category: Polar Alignment
  • Paid or Free: Paid

Description:

“This utility helps you solve this problem by graphically showing you the current position of the Polaris. The application tracks and draws the position of the Polaris (or Octant) in real-time and also displays its hour-angle, the local sidereal time, current local time and the longitude of the place.”

I’ve been using Polar Finder for many years to aid me in the polar alignment process of my equatorial telescope mounts. It’s a simple app that does its job. It gives me the position of Polaris for my location, and I just need to replicate the view through my telescope mount. 

My Aurora Forecast

My Aurora Forecast

  • Created By: JRustonApps B.V.
  • Operating System: iPhone, Android
  • Category: Aurora
  • Paid or Free: Free

Description:

“My Aurora Forecast is the best app for seeing the Northern Lights in Canada and the rest of the world. Built with a sleek dark design, it appeals to both tourists and serious aurora watchers by telling you what you want to know – whether that is exactly how likely you are to see the aurora borealis or details about the solar winds and high-resolution sun imagery. With this app, you’ll be seeing the Northern Lights in no time.”

Seeing the northern lights can be an exhilarating experience, and can be very rare depending on your location. It is an astronomical event that you definitely want to receive a heads-up (literally) about. If you care about space, not knowing about a beautiful aurora display in your area until after it has happened could be a painful experience!

Heavens-Above

Heavens Above

  • Created By: Heavens-Above
  • Operating System: Android
  • Category: Education, Planning
  • Paid or Free: Free, Paid Pro Version

Description:

“When can I see the ISS? What’s that light in the sky? The official Heavens-Above app provides you with precise pass predictions for the ISS, visible satellites and radio satellites.”

DSO Planner Pro

DSO Planner Pro

  • Created By: Leonid Vasiliev, Alexandre Koukarine
  • Operating System: Android
  • Category: Planning
  • Paid or Free: Paid

Description:

“DSO Planner is an astronomy observation planning tool with excellent star charting capabilities made by active and experienced amateur observers with a passion for visual observations. It has large integrated deep sky objects databases and provides an opportunity to create any number of user own object databases.”

Final Thoughts

I hope this list of astronomy apps has given you at least 1 new useful tool for astronomy and astrophotography. My absolute favorite app is probably Stellarium, but that is probably because I have been using it for so long and am very comfortable with it.

I really enjoyed putting together this list of stargazing apps, because I found a bunch of great new astronomy apps in the process. My favorite new apps (to me) were Astrospheric, and NightShift. 

The best astronomy app for you will likely be something that works especially well on your operating system, and that fits your specific needs. For software recommendations specifically related to astrophotography, please visit the resources page

Have I missed an important astronomy app? Please let me know in the comments. 

Complete List:

  1. DSO Planner Pro
  2. Heavens-Above
  3. My Aurora Forecast
  4. Polar Finder
  5. DarkLight
  6. NightShift: Stargazing and Astronomy
  7. ISS Detector
  8. Gas Giants
  9. The Moon – Phases Calendar
  10. SkyView Lite
  11. Star Walk
  12. NightCap
  13. Meteoblue
  14. Astropheric
  15. Clear Outside
  16. PhotoPills
  17. SkySafari 6 Pro
  18. Polar Scope Align Pro
  19. Stellarium

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This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. You have done it again, another very useful post! That Astrospheric app was the one that was new to me. Very cool! There was one that is neat to play around with that you did not list called Planet Finder. It does more than just the planets on the paid version.

  2. Darren says:

    Hi Trevor,
    As an owner of the sky Watcher Star Adventurer, I use the free app ‘SAM Console’ which is meant for the control of the Star adventurer mini. However, the polar clock utility menu gives you the correct polar alignment using the GPS current location and exactly the same reticule as the big Star Adventurer. Makes it a doddle to set up my Sky Watcher and keep it aligned all night.
    Regards
    Darren

    • Trevor says:

      Excellent point Darren. I originally had the SAM Console astronomy app on this list, but opted to leave it out because it is a little too specific (to Star Adventurer owners). But as you said, it’s a great polar clock on its own! Cheers

  3. Paul P says:

    Sky Guide by Fifth Star Labs for iOS is my absolute favourite!

    Paid version has incredibly detailed star maps which make star hopping for visual very easy. Also, all the galaxies and nebulas and other DSO’s are beautifully integrated.

    Also, tracking of iss, other satrelites, the moon, planets and weather is al shown beautifully based on your location. An absolute winner for me!

    Check it out and keep it up!

  4. Chuck says:

    Sky guide is a good one also

  5. Chuck says:

    Paul, Sky guide is my favorite also

  6. 45N - 77W says:

    Here is an cool app ” ISS Live Now” it shows the current position of the ISS, Long, Lat, Alt & speed on a map & a live view from the ISS.

  7. Mark says:

    Pocket Universe (puniverse) is a extremely handy planetarium iOS app that I’ve been using for a few years- the motion mode allows for real time/space viewing of anyplace in the sky. Has AR and stereographic abilities as well (gimmicky, I know). Also has a number of databases that you can load into the display- great for when you’re out and about with nothing more than your eyes or binoculars.

  8. Rick says:

    Too bad “The Moon” is yearly subscription based. I’d pay a reasonable amount of money, $5 or so, once and only once to purchase it. Ongoing subscriptions are not happening, sorry.

    Some pretty decent weather based apps in there though. I’ll be Playing around with them for sure!

  9. mu says:

    Just FYI
    Not “Without further adieu, ” rather
    “Without further ado”.

    Thanks for a very interesting article.

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