Space may be the final frontier, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a better look at it from our mobile devices. If you're a stargazer or know someone who is, check out these apps.
Mars Globe HD
For: iOS | Price: Free or 99c
An interactive map of the nearest planet, Mars Globe HD provides a guided tour of the red planet, or — if you’re more the type to explore foreign worlds all on your own — allows you to explore more than 1,500 interactive surface features. Like Google Earth, the 3D globe is stitched together from high-resolution satellite imagery and laser altimeter data, and 3D processing makes sure the lighting looks as realistic as possible. There’s a free or paid (99c) version, the only difference slightly higher resolution images in the paid version.
For: iOS, Android, WP7 | Price: $2.99 iOS and Android; $2.99 WP7
My favourite augmented reality app, Star Chart, allows you to hold your phone up to the night sky and see information on what stars, constellations, planets and other interesting bits lie beyond. You can switch on or off the different layers, so you can see only what you’re interested in. Extra information on any of the objects you see is available by clicking on it — no matter if it’s a galaxy, constellation, planet or a single star. I really like being able to see classical drawings of the different constellations, and appreciate the red-tinted night mode that preserves your night vision.
Brain Cox’s Wonders of the Universe
For: iOS | Price: $7.49
Released in conjunction with the (excellent) BBC documentary of the same name, this app provides an insight into the universe through 200 different articles and two-and-a-half hours of video across 7 different scales – from subatomic to the whole universe. Travel past the moon, the planets, out of the solar system and Milky Way to the very edge of the universe. On the way, you can interact with red giants, nebulae, neutron stars and black holes. The app also includes hundreds of infographics and images of space objects supplied by NASA and other space researchers. It’s optimised for the new iPad’s display and is simply beautiful.
F-Sim Space Shuttle
For: iOS | Price: $4.49
There are few crafts more badass to a pilot than a space shuttle — after all, the Orbiter’s approach is seven times steeper and twice as fast as a commercial airliner’s — so why not take on the challenge and pretend you’re about to touch down at the Kennedy Space Center? The included manual and tutorials will familiarise you with the heads-up display and explain the different approach and landing phases. After some practice and your first successful touchdown, you can try crosswind or night landings, or even simulate a fault.
The Invisible Universe
For: Android | Price: Free
This app aims not to show you what you can see in the night sky, but what you can’t. Specifically, it focuses on those frequencies beyond the visible spectrum. You can hold the phone up to the night sky and view what lies beyond across five different views; gamma rays, X-rays, far infrared, neutral gas and ionised gas. A little more info would be nice, but I like the app as it really shows there’s so much more to the universe than the eye can see.
For: Android | Price: $2.99
Calculates sunrise, sunset, twilights, golden hours, length of day, the path of the sun and moon, moonrise and moonset times and more for any date, anywhere in the world. Additionally, you can see lunar phase and illuminated fraction, as well as rise, set and transit times for the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. It also contains information on solar and lunar eclipses, solstices and equinoxes, Earth aphelion (furthest point from the sun) and perihelion (the nearest) up until the year 2020. You can also set notifications and alarms for sun and moon rise and set events, or view monthly calendars showing how times change each day. The app also includes widgets.
For: iOS, Android | Price: From $2.99
More than just a keen astronomer? Looking for something a little more in-depth than the other night sky apps? SkySafari is an app designed for astronomers, by astronomers. It comes in three flavours; Regular, Plus, and Pro; each one with more detail than the last. Plus and Pro also come with telescope control, compatible with SkyFi or SkyWire accessories. You can view the stars from any point in our Solar System, and from any point in time a million years in the past or future, making the whole ‘space travel’ thing seem a little redundant.
For: Android, PlayBook | Price: $3.29 Android; US$2.99 BlackBerry
More of a planet person than a star sucker? Sourcing its information from the Exoplanet Encyclopaedia, SIMBAD, as well as scientific papers, Exoplanet Explorer brings you all the information we know on the 700 known planets and the star systems they reside in. You can either browse or search the exoplanets and systems, with planets being divided into six size and three thermal classes, too, meaning you can easily pick the type of planet you’re keen on. Best of all, the app automatically updates the exoplanet data, keeping you abreast of the latest discoveries.
For: iOS, Android | Price: Free
When it comes to space, NASA is a pretty big player. With numerous satellites orbiting the planet, or flying through the cosmos, the agency collects massive amounts of imagery of all manner of interesting celestial objects. Fortunately for us, NASA compiles the very best images it receives and puts them online daily. This app gives you access to that daily updated archive, complete with the descriptions. Additionally, you can also view videos, read the latest NASA news, find out when the next launch will be, track earth observation satellites and the international space station — including when the next sighting will occur — and even listen to the Third Rock internet radio station.