I first learned to love the stars through my grandfather, an amateur astronomer born in 1903 who fashioned telescope lenses from glass and aluminum scavenged in Pittsburgh factory trash-heaps. My “pop-pop” imparted his knowledge of astronomy, and the tools of astronomy, without the aid of any digital devices, but I like to imagine that if he were around today, he’d really enjoy the wide variety of mobile applications for amateur astronomers, and star-curious kids like I was back then. Here are a few of my favorite apps for Apple iOS devices such as the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. All can be found by searching on the following titles in the Apple App store.
• STAR WALK ($2.99):
An augmented reality app for the sky. Download this app for iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad, point your device to the heaevns, and get information on which stars, constellations, planets, and sattelites you’re looking at, real-time. Also allows you to track the International Space Station to observe fly-bys.
• EXOPLANET (free):
Database of all discovered extrasolar planets, created by astronomer Hanno Rein. Updated daily, it allows you to subscribe to “push” notifications when a new exoplanet is discovered. Includes physical parameters of each exoplanet, along with a 3D plot showing the position of each of them in our Milky Way. Zoom into any planetary system for more detail. You can follow them on Twitter @exoplanetapp.
• JPL SPACE IMAGES (free):
View the latest images from NASA missions on this app from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and California institute of technology. Allows you to zoom in, read detailed descriptions of the images you’re browsing, and rate them for “awesomeness” factor. JPL will soon be releasing a new edition of this app, and I’m told it will be really amazing.
• MESSIER LIST (free):
An app that displays the list of celestial objects compiled in the late 18th century by French astronomer Charles Messier, who sought to help comet-hunters by putting together a list of bright and prominent objects in the sky commonly mistaken for comets.