Need to Find the Big Dipper? There's an App for That

By Smriti Rao | April 29, 2010 1:58 pm

20091112-2-pocketuniverseThere used to be a time when you could easily impress a date by pointing to the night sky and dreamily rattling off names of major stars, constellations, and the like. Now, instead of cramming your head full of names or making up stuff as you go along, you can use your trusty iPhone to guide you through your stargazing.

There are a bunch of apps that you can download, depending on your interest level and degree of expertise. Most of the apps are based on augmented reality–so all you have to do is point your phone towards the sky and the app does the rest.

If you’re a beginner, Pocket Universe ($3) and Star Walk ($3) are recommended by The New York Times for iPhone users; while Google Sky Map is great for Android users.

With Pocket Universe, you can use the camera view to look at the evening or morning sky, and the app will overlay the labeled view over the real sky. (The iPhone’s camera isn’t good enough yet to pull off this feat with a dark night’s sky.) The app also plots the position of the sun, moon, and planets, displays 10,000 stars, and traces the shapes of the constellations. Pocket Universe also features a “Tonight’s Sky” option, showing you a list of planets you can spot with the naked eye.

Star Walk, meanwhile, boasts spectacular graphics and animation, as demonstrated in this excellent video. You can also download a version of the app ($5) for the iPad. Then all you have to do is point your iPad towards the skies, or even towards the ceiling of your room, and the app will take over–labeling the stars and the constellations you would see if you were pointing a telescope in that direction. The New York Times describes:

Touch “Pollux,” Gemini’s brightest star, and then tap on the information icon. A dropdown box displays a brief description of the star — which, it turns out, is a mere 34 light years from Earth.

StarMap is yet another app that may help you get into stargazing. StarMap 3-D ($2 for iPhone), among other things, puts you at the controls of a simulated deep-space flight. If you’re more serious about your stars, you can try the advanced version of the app, Star Map Pro. Apart from offering detailed information about celestial objects, the app also shows telescope aficiondos how stars would look through different telescope lenses. For a closer look at the both the apps in action, check out the videos.

Related Content:
Discoblog: Your Augmented Reality Life: Coming Soon in 2020
Discoblog: For the Driver Who Has Everything: An Augmented Reality Windshield From GM
Discoblog: Augmented Reality Phone App Can Identify Strangers on the Street
Discoblog: Augmented Reality Tattoos Are Visible Only to a Special Camera
Discoblog: Weird iPhone Apps (our growing compendium of the oddest apps out there)

Image: Pocket Universe

  • BarMonger

    For those using Android based phones you can use the free Google Sky Map app ( – or find it in Market) to the same effect.

    It works just like StarWalk mentioned above, but features different overlays as well (such as famous Hubble images), pictures of planets etc.

    It also has a search function which helps you find any celestial object available in the app, on the night sky.

  • Estefana Formica

    Well, I don’t really know so much about it, yet it reminds me of a story my supervisor at Intel one time shared with us: evidently, this thirteenth century Spanish alchemist tried (in vain) to make precious metal from lead. He observed those substances so seriously, he got to be a specialist on the two, and got rich as an official consultant to the empress. Information was tricky to find in those days, nothing like nowadays with pc availability, and dedicated drivers etc. in those days, if you ever revealed something good, you could keep advising for life. However , I digress. What I am saying is that occasionally you come upon riches by merely testing (and being committed to) something different, and thats just what happened to me once I accidentally got here. I was in fact on the search for some technical information about driver updates when I began web browsing, and got carried away….


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