Channel your inner Patrick Moore and discover your own close encounters with this interstellar selection of otherworldly apps.
Are we really alone in the universe? Is there intelligent life out there beyond our tiny planet? Is there any way we can escape the Royal Baby coverage by moving to a new home in the stars? Well the Samsung GALAXY S4 might not offer a definitive answer to the eternal search, but it does allow you to have a good look.
The Google Play Store is packed with awesome apps for amateur stargazers and seasoned astronomers alike. Here’s our top ten for exploring the night sky and beyond.
£22.99 – Buy it here
“Go big or go home,” as our boisterous cousins across the Atlantic like to say, and while SkySafari Pro might be (by far) the most expensive option in our round-up, with 15.3 million stars and 740,000 galaxies within this app, it’s easy to see where that extra cash goes. Once the app becomes part of your own GALAXY (sorry, we’re really trying to keep the galaxy puns to a minimum), it promises to completely replace your desktop astronomy software.
It can show you a view of the sky from any place on earth, while the time machine feature allows you to look at the constellations 100 years into the past or future. As with many of these apps you can use the S4’s built-in compass to point your phone at any star and learn its name and story. If you have a connected “PushTo” telescope, SkySafari Pro will command the device to hone in on any point in the sky, via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
£3.99 – Buy it here
This app is great for keeping up to speed with the latest celestial events occurring beyond the confines of our postage-stamp-sized presence in the cosmos. Mobile Observatory will alert you to the next meteor shower, passing comet or lunar eclipse.
Also, if one bright star is practically burning out your retinas with its awesomeness, there’s a live, zoomable sky map to fill you in. There’s also an interactive top-down view of the solar system to play with and even a feature that tells you the exact positioning of the Millennium Falcon with a live Han-Cam. Okay, we made that last bit up.
Free – Get it here
As the man who saved us all from Armageddon, Bruce Willis, once said: “You're NASA for cryin' out loud…I'm sure you got a team of men sitting around somewhere right now just thinking stuff up!”
Well this app is the fruits of labour from a team of guys thinking stuff up. The NASA app for Android is free to download and brings access to the Agency’s library of on-demand videos, live streaming of NASA TV, as well as updates on current missions, access to 11,000 images and an International Space Station tracker. There’s not quite enough Bruce Willis or Ben Affleck for our tastes, but it’s still a must-have.
Free – Get it here
If you loved Google Earth then Google Sky Map is simply out of this world. Anyway, puns aside, let’s clear one thing up before we start. No, Google didn’t drive around in little SpaceView cars with cameras poking out of them charting every inch of space and occasionally capturing an odd alien couple engaging in coitus or vomiting against an off-licence. That would be stupid and impossible.
Anyway, Sky View is from the old school of Android apps, and its USP is its ability to find any star in the solar system and beyond. So, for example, you can type in “Mars” and the handset (again using GPS and compass data) will guide you in the direction of the red planet.
Free – Get it here
Space Images may have the ‘John Smith’ of astronomy app names, but we’re glad that, instead of sitting around coming up with a clever name like ‘SkyEye,’ NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs team decided to focus their energies on packing this freebie with content. It’s full of incredible, vivid photos from all corners of reachable space, all of which look particularly striking on the GALAXY S4’s 5-inch Full HD Super AMOLED screen.
The app boasts snaps of the surface of Mars taken by Curiosity’s MAHLI camera and an unbelievable recent shot of the Earth taken from the rings of Saturn by the Cassini spacecraft, 1 billion miles away. The app also showcases images taken of Earth during major events, such as the recent mountain fires in California. It’s a stunning free app that serves up interesting content every day. For this reason alone we’re glad that, despite recent budget cuts, President Obama is still writing cheques to NASA.
69p – Buy it here
Moon Phase Pro is a spectacular live wallpaper app that shows the current phase of the moon in superb and vivid detail (“right down to the shadows in the craters,” the developer boasts). Yet it is so much more too.
There’s a full Lunar calendar giving you information on the next full moon. If you ever wanted to visit the Dark Side of the Moon, the app allows you to swipe around the 3D simulated model with two fingers. There’s also detailed information on moonrise and moonset times, as well as a neat feature that allows you to view the moon at any time from 1900 to 2100.
£1.99 – Buy it here
Augmented Reality, ladies and gents. Undoubtedly awesome and particularly useful when it comes to astronomy apps. Just open Vortex Planetarium and point it towards the darkness above.
The app automatically opens the camera on your GALAXY S4 and instead of a visualisation of the sky you’ll see the real deal, complete with detailed annotations naming the stars, constellations and planets (there are 200,000 items in total to find) within the lens’ wide field of vision.
There’s also an awesome time-slider at the bottom of the screen that allows you to travel back and forwards in time, while the weather forecast feature lets you mark clear nights perfect for stargazing. While some of these apps can be information heavy, Vortex combines great design and a simple interface to take its place as one of our favourite apps in the sector.
99p – Buy it here
Some of the apps featured within this round-up are perfect for serious or budding astronomers looking to augment their hobby, while others are just really cool to play around with when you’re standing outside in the dark with nothing to do. The Night Sky falls into the latter category.
Just hold your smartphone up to the sky to show the stars, planets, constellations and satellites within its line of sight. Like other apps with this functionality, it works by combining the GALAXY S4’s GPS signal with the device’s built-in compass, so can turn around 360 degrees and see what’s to the north, south, east or west. You can also use the neat ‘Share My Sky option’ to share what you’re seeing to Facebook and Twitter. If you’re that way inclined.
Free – Get it here
We’ve spent so much time looking outwards lately, we almost forgot that it’s also possible to view our own world from a unique, extra-terrestrial perspective. Thanks to the satellites positioned above the earth, this app presents a wealth of vital states for our little, insignificant dot in the cosmos, including colour coded Air Temperature, Gravity Field, Sea Level, and Ozone indicators and as well as those nasty Carbon Dioxide and Carbon Monoxide concentrations.
There are also handy keys for each state and their respective measurement units (ppm = parts per million, etc). Earth Now is another great-looking free app from the Jet Propulsion unit at NASA. And, if you’re wondering why there’s a disproportionate amount of apps from the Agency? Well, you want good apps, right? (Sorry, but we’re not sorry).
Free – Get it here
After all of this app-based astronomical education, you’ve earned a little playtime, and we’d heartily recommend GoF2 from Fishlabs. This detailed sci-fi shooter and strategy game sees you take on the role of the first scouser in space (ignoring Dave Lister), Kevin T Maxwell, and embark on a ten-hour plus campaign mode, shooting down some fellow space inhabitants, while bartering with others.
As well as the engrossing gameplay, there’s an awesome level of detail and graphical prowess, enhanced by your GALAXY S4’s 5-inch full HD Super AMOLED screen, 2GB RAM, Qualcomm Adreno 320 GPU, and powerful Quad-Core 1.9GHz Snapdragon 800 processor. Once you’ve completed the story mode there are additional storylines you can purchase in-app to keep the adventures going.