Astronomy: it’s easier than you probably think. In fact, to catch the best celestial events of the night sky, you needn’t require hours studying sky charts, or invest in a top-of-the-range telescope. From Mars, to Orion’s Belt, the Andromeda Galaxy and even the International Space Station, you can see plenty with just your eyes alone.
But while expensive equipment isn’t necessary, every stargazer can benefit from an armoury of astronomy apps to hand. Whether you’re looking to escape light pollution or locate a certain planet in the sky, here are the downloads worthy of your home screen.
Light Pollution Map
For any 21st-Century astronomer, light pollution can be a serious barrier to seeing the stars. In fact, a survey of 2,500 stargazers by The Countryside Charity found only 2 per cent of respondents were able to view a dark sky featuring more than 30 stars on a given night.
So where can you go to see more? Light Pollution Map can give you several answers. Not only will it point out the local areas most free of light pollution, but it also offers easy-to-follow directions how to get there.
As a bonus, for each ‘dark site’, the app also offers information on sky conditions and local temperature.
Download for Apple devices (free).
This highly intelligent app is, without doubt, an absolute gem for stargazers.
Simply by pointing your device upwards, SkyView can identify galaxies, stars, constellations, planets and even the International Space Station. Its augmented reality technology will even show you information about the celestial bodies seen on your camera.
Plus, the app also comes equipped with red or green night-mode screen filters, allowing you to better preserve your night vision.
The secret of good stargazing? Planning. That’s because the shifting nature of the night sky means the best objects to spot can vary from evening to evening.
Fortunately, Stellarium makes this prep a breeze. This planetarium software offers an accurate 3D simulation of the sky for any given night on any place on Earth, highlighting the must-see sights and explaining exactly how to find them. All considered, Stellarium is the ideal companion for any first-time astronomer (particularly one that hates extensive planning).
Here’s something you’ve definitely done: after viewing a particularly Insta-ready moon, you’ve taken out your phone and photographed what looks like a teeny white spec. While this image isn’t going to gain you any likes, the same photo taken with an app like NightCap will.
Designed for capturing low-light photos, its AI adjusts your camera’s noise, ISO, white balance, shutter settings and more to shoot better images of the night sky. There are even specific camera modes for picturing the likes of star trials and the International Space Station.
Combine all this with the ability to capture night-time videos and time-lapses, NightCap makes for the best beginner’s astrophotography tool.
Download for Apple devices (£2.99).
The archnemesis of the astronomer, amateur or otherwise? Clouds. Even if lighting conditions and celestial positionings are perfect, you’re going to see zilch if they’re in your way.
Your secret weapon against this foe: Dark Sky. It’s an app that offers hyperlocal, down-to-the-minute weather forecasts that’ll predict when the skies will be clear exactly where you’re standing.
And, as a bonus, it’ll also let you know the current moon phase, alongside wind conditions and sunrise times.
Download for Apple devices (£3.99).
Additional reporting by Abigail Beall.
Read more about astronomy:
Looking for stargazing tips? Check out our complete astronomy for beginners UK guide.
Thomas is a Staff Writer at BBC Science Focus and looks after all things Q&A. Writing about everything from cosmology to anthropology, he specialises in the latest psychology and neuroscience discoveries. Thomas has a Masters degree (distinction) in Magazine Journalism from the University of Sheffield and has written for Men’s Health, Vice and Radio Times. He has been shortlisted as the New Digital Talent of the Year at the national magazine Professional Publishers Association (PPA) awards.