Most Used Astronomy Apps

One of the most frequent questions I receive is which apps to use for stargazing and astronomy. Here’s my top 8 most used apps with a brief description of what I use them for.

SkySafari 6 – My main planetarium app that lets me see what’s up on a particular evening and plan my excursions under the stars. It also comes with useful telescope control functionality.

Dark Sky Map – Let’s me see areas of light pollution in my local area and further afield. Essential if you’re planning to stargaze somewhere you’ve never been before so you can guage darkness levels and avoid pesky light pollution.

Park4night – Once you’ve decided on a dark location getting off the road and parked can be a massive headache, especially where I live in the Highlands of Scotland where there’s plenty of dark areas but very little access. This app will show you lay-bys and parking spots for brief stops or overnight parks.

Glendale App – One of the best Aurora alert apps for tracking down the elusive northern lights.ISS Detector – My main app for seeking out and planning International Space Station passes. Works from your home location or anywhere in the world.

Clear Outside – One of the best weather apps aimed at stargazing. Summarises different altitudes of cloud cover, Moon brightness, wind and precipitation and provides you with a simple traffic light system for each night.

Compass Galaxy – I have a Samsung phone but any compass app will do to help you find north out in the field.

Phases of the Moon – The presence of the Moon is a huge deal. For Milky Way observing and deep sky astronomy you want to avoid the Moon and this app will quickly tell you the phase and rise and set times at your local position.

I should add that I’m in no way affiliated with any of these apps or software companies. This is just an honest peek into what I use to help me enjoy the night sky. I hope you find it useful.

Capturing the Northern Lights on your Mobile Phone

Modern mobiles are now able to take quite striking images of the night sky.

Here’s a few examples people shared from last night’s aurora activity in the north of Scotland.

If you’d like to try it yourself I’ve outlined a few pointers below and some apps you could try.

Settings:

1. Find the ‘manual’ or ‘pro’ setting on your mobile phone, this should let you alter ISO, focus and exposure settings.

2. Boost the ISO to around 800 or higher if you mobile is a more recent model.

3. Alter the exposure time to between 3 seconds – 30 seconds and experiment with a few shots.

4. WIth a short exposure time (a few seconds) you might get away with a handheld shot assuming you can keep you phone still during the picture. Any longer and you’ll need a tripod mount.

5. Good luck.

Phone Apps:

If you’re looking for some apps specifically designed to take astronomy images you could try NightCap (iPhone only) or ProCamX (Android). And if you want to get really experimental there’s also DeepSkyCamera which attempts to stack images for deep sky images (tripod essential).

Good luck and have fun.

Venus and Mercury

85024035_2842536592490527_233392740522524672_o.jpgThis is how low Mercury grazes the horizon at the moment. A superb shot of Venus and Mercury from Will Cheung this evening.

If you want to sight Mercury for yourself the best chance is right now in the early evenings just after sunset.  Using Venus as a guide, scan the low horizon with binoculars or naked eye.  An unobstructed horizon like the one in the picture above is essential.

Clear skies.