The best Android apps for astronomy fans and stargazers

Plot out constellations and unlock other mysteries of the universe with this collection of apps.

android in space
Credit: Google+
Journey through space with your Android

It was the iPad that first introduced us to the magic of augmented reality for astronomy apps, in which your device adds graphics on top of a view of the real world.

But some of those original apps and many new ones have come along to Android, making it just as strong a platform to serve as a companion for stargazers. This grouping has apps that will serve the needs of first-time astronomers or seasoned professionals who want to every tool they can get for astronomical research. 

solar walk 2
Solar Walk 2

If you're just looking for just one app to have on your device in case you find yourself under the stars, then go with Star Walk 2.

It's a follow-up to the original Star Walk, which you can still find in the Play Store. The new edition brings a more minimal design that gets out of your way so you can focus on the stars. As you've probably seen in an iPad commercial, you can hold it above your head (or anywhere, really) to get a real-time view of near and far-off celestial objects.

If you have the original there may not be enough to make you buy the sequel, unless you're a serious stargazer. Also, it's worth noting some of the new content requires an in-app upgrade; such as the ability to track satellites, more constellation details, and 3-D models of the planets. Each are $0.99, but the best option is to buy all five extras for $2.31.

Star Walk 2 ($2.99)

stellarium
Stellarium Mobile Sky Map

Stellarium features a clever interface, with a bunch of different overlays you can use to get more details about the night sky. 

For example, you can get instant information about a specific star just by zooming in to it. You can also display an Azimuthal or Equatorial grid. However, if you overload on the features then the screen becomes a blurred mess of unreadable data.

You can also flip on the augmented reality on or off, so you can just navigate the sky through pinching and zooming if you're in a situation where you'd rather not wave your phone or tablet over your head.

Stellarium Mobile Sky Map ($2.49)

night sky pro
Night Sky Pro

Just like Star Walk, Night Sky Pro uses augmented reality to identify what you can see and what's beyond the reach of your eyes. 

The interface is clever, as it puts several options in the corner as icons and has a "time machine" tool at the top, which you can use to spin forward or backwards to see how the sky will or used to look. I also like the weather predictor, which tells you how favorable the conditions are for stargazing. 

If you're unsure if this whole stargazing thing is worth a measley $2.49, you can check out Night Sky Lite (free) or The Night Sky ($0.99), which stagger the features depending on how much you pay. 

It's worth it to go with Night Sky Pro, as it includes the time machine, deep space objects, and other perks not found in the free or cheaper edition. Also, as the new flagship to the family, I would expect to see more features and frequent updates to this edition.

Night Sky Pro ($2.49)

nasa
NASA

NASA's Internet presence is already excellent with its famed image gallery

It brings that and many other features to its Android app. You can get live ISS views through NASA TV, get details on other NASA sites throughout the country, and check in on all of the space agency's social feeds. 

The interface isn't terrible, but it could definitely use some touching up to bring it in line with Google's Material Design standards. But if you're a true space geek and want to keep up with what NASA's doing, then the app is worth grabbing.

NASA (free)

iss detector
ISS Detector

Yes, you can actually spot the International Space Station with the naked eye if you know where to look. 

ISS Detector Pro is here to help you out. It will tell you where in the world the space station is at and even offer to sound an alarm a few minutes before it's in your viewing area. 

Depending on the conditions you can then see it yourself or you may get a glimpse of its Iridium flares, which are the sunlight rays reflecting off the satellite's surface.

There's a free edition if you want to check it out, which has ads that appear along the bottom of the screen. 

ISS Detector Pro ($2.75)

sky guide
Sky Guide

Sky Guide is for true stargazing enthusiasts who want to do more than just casually glance at the stars. 

That's because it includes precise astronomical details and data, with many different options for putting it to use. 

The app includes access to lots of information for each object, which you can get more details about by lining it up between the crosshair or searching for its name. Other tools include an astronomical event calculator, orbit diagram, and several others that I've never heard of before.

By all accounts it's a good option for serious astronomers who want a good complement to their stargazing kit.

Sky Guide ($2.99)

night sky tools
Night Sky Tools

This app is a good mashup of resources for amateur astronomers or others who are planning to load up their telescopes and head out for some remote stargazing.

That's because it caches most of the information on your device in case you're going to one of the few places left in the country where there's less artifical light. Doing so probably means a spotty connetion from your wireless company.

Night Sky Tools will help your journey by offering data for helping you focus on specific celestial objects. There's also an observation log and a daylight map that will show you exactly when it will be dark enough to check out the sky.

Night Sky Tools (free) 

sky portal
SkyPortal

SkyPortal's main differentiator is its telescope alignment software, which will improve the accuracy of what you're looking at for supported devices.

The app also uses your location and the time of day to pull together highlights of what you can expect to see that night in the sky. 

SkyPortal also has four hours of audio commentary, so you can learn more about celestial objects while giving your eyes a rest. Some of the settings reveal an interface that's better suited to Android Jelly Bean, but it's a good free selection if you want to try out the telescope pairing or are trying to find out what this whole skygazing thing is about.

SkyPortal (free) 

skeye
SkEye Astronomy

SkEye Astronomy is another good selection for more advanced users who plan on heading out into the darkness armed with a telescope.

It uses a technology called PUSHTO that can connect with certain telescopes guiding them for whichever objects you're out to see.

Additionally it has a grid, star catalogue, and puts the coordinates front and center so you can better align your telescope. The interface isn't as dressed up as other options in this roundup, but it has a lot of tools that may appeal to more sophisticated star watchers.

SkEye Astronomy (free)

startracker
StarTracker

Star Tracker splashes a lot of color and light across the night sky, making it one of the more visually appealing choices amongst this family of apps. 

Just as with the others you can use it as a virtual view finder while waving it around at the sky or pinch and zoom to browse for specific stars or constellations. 

Most of the core features require an in-app upgrade, such as the ability to search for celestial objects by name, use a time machine feature, find 110 deep sky objects, and more detailed constellation artwork. 

This app may be a good option for kids, who may have an easier time making out the constellation patterns with the elaborate pictures used to illustrate them.

Star Tracker (free)