The power of mobile devices means that you can carry around a portable planetarium in your pocket and though it’s not quite the same as a dome, it can give you an immersive experience that helps you find your way around the night sky. In this review of SkySafari 7 Pro we look at what we think is the best mobile app for stargazing. Our starting point for reviewing this app is that we know quite a bit about the night sky already, we can find our way around and find about 100 objects without needing to use a map.
Starting the App
The app opens to a view of the sky at the current time, if it happens to be day time then you get a a view of the sky as if there was no atmosphere. For those who are familiar with previous versions of Sky Safari they will see that version 7 has quite a few different updates to the app and the way that users drive it. One of the first things to do is to set up you location in the settings menu and location tab. You can use your current location (if you have enabled location services for the app) or you can manually set the location you want, either from a list or from a map. If you travel around a bit there’s the option of entering a number of your favourite sites so it’s easy to change them.
The next thing you’ll want to set up is how the sky looks and what extra features you want displayed. There’s pretty everything from constellations, grids, satellites, planets, asteroids etc and they’re all accessed in the setting menu. This new version has really tidied up the screen, which is fantastic. By tapping the time at the top left of the screen you open the menu for time control. There’s a lot of fun with this setting as it’s great to look at the night sky back in history or a few years into the future. Unfortunately it won’t show the proper motion of stars so you can’t go back in time 100,000 years to see what Orion looked like – but you have to keep your expectations realistic.
The Range of Versions
Simulation Curriculum Corp is the developer of the app and they offer three choices for their app. The basic model is simply called SkySafari and will set you back $3.49. The features are basic ones but still very powerful and suitable for what most people would use. You can use it to point directly at the sky by tapping the icon in the upper right of the screen, which puts it in compass mode – as long as you phone is accurate where it points, which mine is not. But if it is, it can help you navigate your way around the sky easily.
The next version up is SkySafari Plus, which sells for $16.99 at the moment. This adds some extra features for connecting to telescopes and connecting to other night sky observers. For the serious amateur astronomer, the next is SkySafari Pro, which will set you you back $89.99. The only difference between that and the plus version is that you get the Gaia star database, the PGC galaxy database and pretty more of everything, more stars, more asteroids, more comets etc etc etc. The extra price of the pro version is not worth it unless you’re a real enthusiast or you have big telescope that can see all of the extra objects. The pro version is a very powerful app for stargazing. It also has a high resolution Moon map which is fantastic you’re into imaging and take close ups of the Moon (from Earth obviously).
Another cool feature of the update in this review of SkySafari 7 Pro is that if you hold your fingers on a star – or object, another menu pops up. One of the icons is a rocket ship and pressing that will fly to app to where the object is. So you can fly to Suhail al Muhlif to see what the sky would look like from there. This is a very cool feature and a great way to explore the solar system and the galaxy.
On the basic version there are descriptions for around 600 objects and these descriptions are very good, with a nice image and detail about the object. By swiping to the left or right you can see further information such as rising and setting times, distance, angular size etc. Their descriptions are great and up to date.
One of the cool features of the app is that you can plan your observing session by building observing lists and recording what you saw. They have a live sky feature where you can share your observations on OneSky. This is an awesome feature where you can see what other people are looking at in real time. It’s great for ideas on what to look at and it’s possible to export what people are looking into your own observing list. Other features include a night mode that makes the display red, this is to preserve your night vision, though it gets ruined if notifications pop up from other apps or your lock screen comes on – if you keep SkySafari the focus it’s all good.
One more feature to glow about in our review of SkySafari 7 Pro is the second button from the left on the main screen called “tonight”. This tells you where the planets are, rising and setting times, details of the Moon and any deep sky objects that are in favourable viewing positions. This is a great feature for an observing session and a good way to learn more objects rather than just sticking to your favourites.
I could go on and on about this app as it’s that good, the best thing to do is give it a go yourself – well worth the $3.49! As a disclaimer we have no commercial arrangement with Simulation Curriculum Corp other than we purchased this app and use it heaps.