So you got yourself a telescope. Great! But you couldn’t afford all those computerized doo-dads that everyone else has on their telescopes and like you see on that one telescope shown in the SkyMall catalog. Boo..wait, you don’t need that! You’ve got a Smart Phone!
Now Smart phones are no substitute for experience with a telescope, but they can make your life a little easier during an observing session.
First up is the 800 lb gorilla of astronomy phone smart apps: Google Sky Map
This app is very straightforward: you point your phone at the sky, and based off your location (determined by GPS or other methods) it shows what is in the sky in the direction the phone is facing:
This is great for identifying what is in the night sky, for finding out where deep sky objects will be in comparison to stars you can actually see and so on.
It is not perfect, nor is it a substitute for a Star Map or Planisphere – for one thing it can only show a small portion of the sky (even when using a larger screened Pad. Another problem is accuracy – the Sky Map seems to often be off by an hour or so and it is not certain why. It may just be the physical limits of the orientation of the phone. Nontheless, it is invaluable as an app
Verdict: Strongly Recommended.
Next up: SkEye
SkEye is very much like Google Sky Map except it has a few other features, main that it has the potential to act with your telescope as an object finder!
On the surface, it starts as another planetarium program:
It is somewhat less intuitive that Google Sky Map, starting off with the Red light setting on (astronomers use red light to night disturb their night vision). Some of the setup is a little bit more involved, and we can’t see. It also is not automatically set up to follow your path as you move it around.
On the plus side, at least for more experienced astronomers, you can use SkEye to turn your telescope into a push-to telescope. The process involves ‘attaching the phone to your telescope’, which is a bit on the vague side.
A pro version is available which has fainter stars and shows satellites. The cost is $9.00
Verdict: Better than Google Sky Map for Advanced astronomers – casual users should stick with Sky Map
Telescope Simulator by SUPANOVA
Telescope simulator is not free. It costs $1.39 as of this writing. Its purpose is to give you a realistic idea of what you will see through any telescope. You can adjust the aperture, eyepiece size or pick from 50 popular designs.
The reason for this app is so you can see why there are differences in telescopes. As we like to tell folks buying a telescope: Any telescope will let you see Saturn’s Rings, but the question is how good do they look? This app hopes to answer that question.
By our own tests the appearances were accurate. Of course any such app will lack the real life effects of turbulence, floaters in your eye, and other unpredictable effects, but this is only a simulation, after all.
The major disadvantage is that there are a limited number of objects to view in the app.
Verdict: Planning on buying a telescope? Probably worth it. Otherwise not needed.
There are actually quite a few apps like this, but this seems to be the most popular one.
Red flashlights are used by astronomers to preserve their night vision. What this flashlight does (unlike regular flashlight apps) is instead of using the flashbulb LED, it simply turns your screen red:
That’s pretty much what it does.
You can adjust the brightness of the light by using the volume buttons on your phone as even a red light that is too bright. It seems to work well.
The bad stuff: Ok, so if it is just a flashlight app, why does it need to access so much stuff on my phone? Does having access to my contact list make it a better flashlight? This stuff is a concern.
Verdict: Works as advertised, but be wary of its intrusive nature. There are other red flashlight apps out there.
Part 2 coming soon!