There are few areas of our lives that haven’t been targeted by software of some kind of other, thanks to the rise of smartphones and tablets that have made powerful computing devices near-ubiquitous. This often results in you spending a handful of change on an app that holds your interest for half a day until you realise that you really don’t need help in, say, regulating your fibre intake and aren’t going to change your bad habits anyway. In the case of stargazing, however, there are some must-have apps that truly do enhance the experience.
On a recent trip to the Cederberg – one of those places where one can actually still see stars – a friend of mine observed a passing satellite in the evening. Not content with just watching it float past, I wanted to know what it was. I grabbed my iPad and came outside, ready to amaze friends and family with my technological prowess, only to discover that the battery on said device had been drained by a four-year-old.
Had my iPad been charged, however, I would have dazzled the crowd by holding it up to the heavens and receiving an augmented reality overlay of the various celestial bodies hovering on top of the night sky as captured by the tablet’s camera. I probably also would’ve confirmed my suspicion that that was the International Space Station streaming its way across the night sky.
The app I would’ve used to achieve this is called Skyview and something I consider essential on any of Apple’s iOS devices, including the iPhone.
Skyview is a very sophisticated piece of technology that uses the built-in compass, accelerometer, GPS, camera and processing power of Apple gadgets to give you an amazing star-gazing tool. Simply hold it up to the sky and touch the things you’d like to know more about or identify.
Skyview provides information about stars, planets, satellites, constellations and just about anything else you’ll find above the atmosphere of planet earth. You can also use it to track down specific things in the sky or view the path that planets, satellites and the like will take across it.
Another fun feature is being able to reset the sky to a particular date and time in the past or future – handy for planning star-gazing events or solving mysteries surrounding what friends claim to have spotted on the horizon in various states of sobriety.
All this spectacular technology is made available for the price of a beer. Ain’t the future grand. Oh, and if you’re on an Android device, check out Star Chart, which does about the same thing.