Admit it, you know nothing of the Universe, not even your own galaxy. Luckily, you can change all that with a flick of your wrist. The majority of these stargazing apps – most for the Apple Watch, others for Android Wear – are really useful if you just want to go outside briefly to catch specific objects or celestial events.
Most will send notifications a few minutes before something significant happens to your smartwatch, alerting you to events in the night sky such as the International Space Station (ISS) flying over your house, an orange Full Moon coming up over the horizon, or a meteor shower peaking. For stargazers, they’re the ultimate celestial scheduler.
Star Walk 2
Is the Universe talking to you? So talk back. One of the simplest and most impressive planetarium apps around for phones, Star Walk 2 just had a major update for iOS and Apple Watch, which includes a voice search feature that lets you speak the name of a star or planet. The app then locates it for you.
By combining the gyroscope on Apple Watch and the iPhone’s compass, you can lift up your wrist to make the night sky map on the iPhone change position. Expect alerts on eclipses, ISS flybys, meteor showers, planet rise times and more.
$2.99, App Store
What’s ‘up’ tonight? SkyView’s Sightings Engine will tell you if, and advise you exactly when, it’s worth you venturing outside. Open the app on the Apple Watch and it reveals a chronologically ordered list of objects to find, so you can observe Jupiter before it sets, watch the ISS flyover your house, or be in position to witness a majestic Moon-rise.
It’s also got configurable notifications to let your watch notify you when it’s time to get outside and look up, though if you’re looking at stars it’s best to be in the dark for 20 minutes to get your night vision.
$1.99, App Store
Planetarium for Android Wear
It’s not all about Apple Watch. This app is basically an extension of AndScaloid’s excellent – and free – smartphone app, tweaking it for an Android Wear device. Supported in fullscreen mode on Android Wear, Planetarium allows you to set your position, date, time and time zone before displaying rise, transit and set times of the Sun, Moon and planets, as well as sending notifications for various astronomical phenomena, much like SkyView.
Free, Google Play
Sundial Solar Clock
Stargazing is all about the Sun and the Moon. Specifically, avoiding them altogether to maximise darkness. So this app from Analemma, a sunlight and lunar phase calendar, comes in really handy if you’re sporting Android Wear.
A very simple day/night watch that indicates the sunrise/sunset, moonrise/moonset, and twilight periods of the day, you can see at a glance of the watch face exactly how much sunlight or darkness you have left. Probably of most use for observing the night sky is the lunar phase schedule since a Moon beyond first quarter, waxing to its Full phase is, to a stargazer, basically just light pollution, and to be avoided.
$99, Google Play
Augmented reality and the night sky? It’s been happening for a while, but this attempt goes way beyond waving a phone at the night sky. A wearable interactive star viewer, Universe2go combines a view of the real night sky with the digital world.
OK, so you do have also buy the viewer, but when you’ve got that you just download the accompanying Universe2go app to your phone (so it can use GPS to create accurate real-time star positions), look into the transparent headset, and an integrated mirror overlays the night sky with digital images of constellations. It works with all regular-sized phones, but not the big phablets like iPhone 7 Plus.
Free, App Store and Google Play
So you’ve moved on from stars and planets? Stand in your backyard long enough looking at stars and you’ll soon notice satellites. Seriously, they’re buzzing across the sky constantly, and if it’s dark and clear up there, you can see all kinds of space junk whizzing around the planet, just with the naked eye.
Luminos puts live sky charts for satellites – as well as planets and stars – on Apple Watch, and tells you what’s going to cross the sky before it does, including the ISS and the Hubble Space telescope.
$19.99, App Store
Solar Walk 2
How well do you know your solar system? The phone version of this encyclopaedic app sports awesome visual effects and simulations covering the Sun’s activity in our neighbourhood, from solar flares and the Northern/Southern Lights to asteroid belts and planetary atmospheres.
It ports quiz questions and basic information to the Apple Watch, then handoffs to the phone app to take you a dazzling journey around the solar system to fill the gaps in your knowledge.
$2.99, App Store
This one’s all about status updates from the sky. Featuring a clear, nicely designed dashboard on the iPhone, Sky Live now ports its pertinent posts on night sky goings-on to Apple Watch.
We’re talking stargazing conditions for exactly where you are (i.e. whether there’s a clear sky), local sunrise and sunset times, moon phases, ISS positioning, and planet ‘culmination’ (when they’re directly above you) times for that evening. Somehow it manages to present all this in an at-a-glance way on Apple Watch, which makes it great for planning – or abandoning plans for – a stargazing or observing session.
$0.99, App Store
Holding your wrist up to the night sky to locate stars and constellations isn’t what stargazing apps for smartwatches are usually about, as underlined by this alerts app. Much like others here, Sky Guide makes it easy for you to know on-wrist what’s worth seeing in the skies above on any given day.
A quick glance reveals constellations and planets visible at that given moment, with customised notifications alerting you to specific, fleeting events such as an eclipse or meteor shower. It also alerts you to the ISS crossing (tailored to your GPS), and even lets you send a tweet from the Apple Watch to one of the on-board astronauts. Awesome.
$2.99, App Store
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Samsung Gear S3
Apple Watch Series 2
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