As mentioned in my last blog post, this was too long to post as a single article. So, here is the second half, this time focused on the astronomy/astrophotography apps I use on my smartphone.
Before I get into that, though, I’m going to have a little rant. You can read it or you can skip down to after the </rant> about 6 paragraphs down.
I will strongly, vehemently recommend against ever buying your smartphone apps through the Amazon store. The reason is simple: unless you renew your login every few weeks, your app will just stop working, because the Amazon part of that app can’t verify the connection to the Amazon store, therefore you are not the owner of the app and you have no right to use it.
If they just did that stunt after you got it, once or twice, that would be fine. It’s easy enough to make the same check set a flag that indicates it’s been verified or something, but to require me to sign into the store just to run an app I purchased from them? I can understand, as a programmer or businessman, why they’re doing that, but having to renew my creds every three weeks or so to use something I purchased? Seriously?
When I’m up in the hills, I have no connection to WiFi and for many places I go no phone service either. I got that app because I wanted to use it with my astrophotography or astronomy hobby and if it’s not going to work because I haven’t renewed my login with amazon.com, well, screw that. I’m never getting another app through Amazon.com. I don’t have that problem with the Google Play store.
On top of that, the apps at amazon.com are frequently out of date compared to those at the Google Play store. Comparing my apps with a friend’s, where I got mine through the Play store and he got it through the Amazon store, we found out that I had gotten 3 updates in the six months since purchasing it and he had gotten one. That was for the same app we both got at about the same time.
Do NOT buy your apps at the Amazon store, it’s NOT worth it.
Their other stuff is sometimes priced cheaper than elsewhere and other times higher, same as any other department store. They have a lot of stuff that we can’t get locally, and are reputable. I’ll continue to shop there for everything else, but I will never buy another app through amazon.com. They don’t keep the apps up to date and I never know exactly when I will have to renew my creds. That last means I can’t trust them to work when I want them to. So, like I said, screw the apps on amazon.com.
Ok, what’s coming up next, unless you’re curious and want to see the tools I use, perhaps to see if there’s a tool you hadn’t thought of, can be best summed up as follows:
Now, you Apple fans, move along. Nothing to see here, move along, move along. **said the author, tongue firmly in cheek**
Obviously I don’t have my laptop with me all the time when I’m outdoors, so I also have various apps on my Android Smartphone. In this case, a Galaxy Nexus. They are all available via the Google Play Store. Many are free, or have a free version (Lite), and one or two you’ll want to pay for. Again, these are what I use and if you don’t like them, perhaps they’ll at least give you some ideas what to look for.
Without further ado, I present the applications I use on my smartphone or tablet for Astronomy and Astrophotgraphy.
I use them mostly as in-field aids to identifying what I’m seeing, but some of them, obviously, can also be used for planning the night’s observations or photography.
Stellarium Mobile: (Finally!): It’s not as up to date as the desktop versions and it seems I can’t update the catalogs to include the newest comets, for example, but still worth having, IMHO. Even when I don’t have a particular comet displayed, I can still use it to orient myself and know where to look for it. It’s not as fully functional as the desktop version, as is easily expected, but it does have everything I need to find objects in the sky. I’d like to be able to include my own landscapes, as another example of its limitations, but I can work around the existing landscape. I don’t use this for planning, preferring the laptop one for that, but rather in-field checking on times, places, what’s interesting and in view.
Mobile Observatory: Tons of useful data, ideas what to look at, etc.. It will tell you what’s available above the horizon at your location, when, where they are in the sky, and gennerally help you find what you’re looking for or identify what you’re looking at. It includes a very nice database that lets you look up information about what you’re interested in. It includes various views of the solar system to play with, a sky view you can set to any date and time, a twilight ephemeris, listings of coming events…way too many features to list here. Highly recommended, I may very well wind up using this on my smartphone as my go-to rather than Stellarium. The Object Database alone is worth having.
SkEye: I prefer this over Google Sky Map but I find I am using it less and less now that I have Mobile Observatory. It’s a great app that seems much more stable than Google Sky Map and as far as I can tell offers exactly the same as Google Sky Map. It’s great for finding things in the sky or identifying them. Unlike Stellarium, SkEye, like Google Sky Map, gives you a live interface so that you can move your smartphone around and the sky will change according to where you point it. The find feature is wonderful, it points you to which direction you need to move to find what you’re searching for. You do have to move slowly as you zero in on the object, but that’s to be expected. Holding it up and aiming it at the sky is a wonderful way to learn what you’re looking at (is that Jupiter? Oh, it’s Venus!) and your way around the night sky.
Moon Phase Pro: This is one of those I’m going to replace from Google Play. I like this for seeing what the phase of the moon will be at any given day or time. If I want a particular moon phase, I can touch and drag the moon to that phase and read the time of the next occurrence. Or I can open up the moon calendar and see at a glance the lunar phase for every day of the month, or future months. It also works for past dates, too, if you’re wondering what the moon phase was on some date in the past. This is a planning tool, more than anything else, for identifying dark nights or particular opportunities to photograph lunar features when they will best stand out.
Meteor Showers: This is a great little app, that gives you the start, peak, and end times of various meteor showers. You can set your location and you can set it up to give you an alert every time a particular meteor shower is nearing its peak. Clicking on on the alert takes you into the program and gives you basic data on the various dates and times, the state of the moon, data about the meteorite speeds, how many meteorites you can expect to see per hour. It also has a built-in search to orient you towards the radiant. It also provides you with sunset for the current day, and a calendar going forward showing all upcoming meteor showers so you can plan which ones you might want to check out.
Lunar Map Lite: This is a nifty little app that lets you identify places and features on the moon. You can zoom in on places to see the labels so that you can identify it, then zoom out to see the larger overall view that helps you know exactly where you’re looking. It also works in reverse, for example if you’ve been hearing a lot lately about Crater Tycho and want to look at it through your scope or want to take a nice photo of it. Locate it in the app, then zoom out to get your bearings and references. That makes it easy to locate Tycho. I’ve not had this very long, but I find myself using it just to identify what I’m seeing on the moon when I look up at night.
Sat Track: This is a nice little application useful for all sorts of things. You can set alarms to let you know when satellites are coming into view or to identify a satellite you just saw pass overhead. I use it mostly for Iridium flare and ISS notifications. It will provide you with a rather comprehensive list of satellites, far more than you’re interested in. It includes both ham and commercial satellites. Clicking on any one satellite in the list will bring up detailed information that will allow you to get set up and ready to shoot or observe ahead of time. I like taking pictures of Iridium flares and for this you want to get everything set up then do a time exposure to capture the entire flare from start to end. This app is great for that. It does require a free account set up at Heavens Above.
Satellite AR: Very identical to Sat Track, I can’t decide which I like better. I hop between the two when I only need one or the other. This app has a different user interface and a live pointer to where a selected satellite currently is, though I don’t make much use of that last part. This app and Sat Track are more prep apps for me, allowing me to set up to capture satellite passes.
GPS Status: This is my primary GPS tool for location data in the field. When I want to know where I am or use the compass, this is the app I go to. The data presented is very basic, easy to read, and gives me what I want at a glance. This is my “coarse” location, good enough for what I want to do. I like, too, that the battery level is right there so that I can notice if my battery is getting low and shut down the GPS before it goes dead.
GPS Averaging: This is useful when I want more accurate location data, my “fine” location as it were. It is exactly what it says it is, a GPS reader that averages readings over time to narrow down where you most likely are. The longer you run it, the more accurate it is, but of course like any GPS app, it uses battery power. Both this and GPS Status don’t seem to be terribly battery voracious, but they do use the battery more than the other apps. I use this primarily when I want to be able to import a very specific location into Stellarium, Google Earth, Flash Earth, or The Photographer’s Ephemeris, for example, for future planning. Most of the time, GPS Status is good enough, but every once in a while I need a more accurate location. That’s when I turn to this app.
GPS Essentials: This is an app I just recently acquired. It looks like it could be useful, but I really mostly just use the two above. This is, as much as anything, an app that caught my eye during a regular check of GPS apps to see if there’s anything better than the other two. What drew me to this app is the opportunity to customize my dashboard to show just what information I want, which ironically turned out to be just one or two items more than GPS Status provides by default. That plus the ability to download and use offline various maps with the GPS are the only two items of interest for me in this app, so far. It has quite a few bells and whistles, including a really nice compass and GUI, but other than these two features I really haven’t used it much, yet. As to the map feature, I like it, but generally when I want to use the GPS with a map display, I will turn to my laptop: bigger screen, wider map selection, and the GPS is then driven by the laptop or vehicle rather than phone battery.
Google Sky Map: To be honest, I no longer use this app. I keep it around out of sentimental reasons, more than anything else, as being the first planetarium app I ever had on my first smartphone. Over various updates, it seems to have become unreliable on my phone and I find I now prefer SkEye. When I first got it, it was just the most awesome sky map ever but now I can’t seem to get a proper view of the sky no matter what. I am including it for the sake of completeness. If you can get it to work properly, it’s a worthy contender to SkEye.
There you have it. This and the previous post list and explain the applications I use on my PC, laptop, tablet, and smartphone for astronomy and astrophotography. I hope these two posts have been useful and also got you to thinking about astronomy and astrophotography. They are wonderful hobbies that get you outside and the night sky is just fascinating.