Stargazing goes with human nature like chocolate and graham crackers go with marshmallows around a campfire. Since the beginning of humankind, we have looked to the skies and its infinite possibilities for answers. Answers that have shaped our perception of time and space, given birth to the mythic origin stories of countless cultures, and even inspired the work of great artists. We are intrinsically drawn to the faraway and celestial expanse above us.
In fact, stargazing is America’s favorite pastime. It was reported in the New York Times that 215 million Americans watched the big Solar Eclipse event on Aug. 21, 2017—that’s almost double the people that watched the Super Bowl that year. And with today’s technology of augmented reality (AR) on our phones and precise navigation capabilities—including Hipcamp’s Dark Skies Map, which showcases campsite spots with the least amount of man-made light pollution—the answers we seek in the stars are literally within the palm of our hands. For the ultimate stargazing experience, check out these stellar apps made for the starry-eyed and then head to the darkest campsite on the aforementioned map to test them out! (Bonus: Start planning your stargazing adventure by also taking a look at this 2018 Stargazing Calendar.)
1. Star Walk 2, $2.99
The sequel to the original Star Walk app, Star Walk 2 has been upgraded with 3D models of celestial bodies, a simpler and cleaner interface, and atmospheric visual and sound effects. The app uses your device’s sensors and GPS to determine the exact position of stars, constellations, planets, comets, ISS, satellites, meteor showers and star clusters. Simply point your phone to the night sky (screen facing you) and it’ll identify with an in-depth description of whatever celestial bodies are currently above you.
2. Sky Guide AR, $2.99
The most reliable stargazing app on the list, Sky Guide AR doesn’t require WiFi, cellular service or GPS in order to use it—a.k.a. perfect for outback campers. It uses AR to spot objects in the sky with your phone camera. Plus, a time-traveling feature allows users to view the sky in the past or future. This can come in handy for type A camp planners who need to know what the skies will look like in three weeks time for the perfect outing.
3. SkyView Lite, Free with in-app purchases
The best part of this app is that it features the same functions as most stargazing apps, but for free. Like most apps, SkyView utilizes AR to identify objects in the sky including when the ISS and Hubble Space Telescope pass overhead. There’s also options to set reminders for major celestial events and capture stunning shareable photos that’ll make all your astronomy buddies Insta-jealous.
4. GoSkyWatch Planetarium, $3.99
A lot of information is packed into this app for those who want a more in-depth exploration of celestial movements in our solar system. It’s specifically designed for iPad users, who will make the most out of the wide zoom range and 180-degree display. Astronomy aficionados will especially appreciate the finder, which points to whatever star, constellation, planet, or galaxy is plugged in, and the archive of more than 200 images of planets and deep sky objects.
5. Night Sky, Free with in-app purchases
Similar to Sky Guide AR, Night Sky uses AR to overlay constellations on the real night sky (via the camera screen on your phone). Unique to this app, though, are the live and customizable night sky tours that help guide stargazers through the visible constellations at any time and location in the world. You’ll also have access to a community in which members swap info on the best stargazing spots in your area.
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