Even for the younger generations of today, it can still be quite amazing to think what technology can do. This has never been truer for the aspiring astronomer, a field for which the phrase “there’s an app for that” has never been so helpful. SkyView Free is the free-to-use app from developers Terminal Eleven that essentially takes an advanced level as astronomical knowledge and lays it bare on the screen of your mobile device. Using the GPS technology within your device, SkyView Free allows you to identify all of the known constellations, individual stars, galaxies, and even satellites, all from the palm of your hand. It’s got more depth in its functionality, too, which is covered in this review.
An Intuitive Interface that Puts a New World at Your Fingertips
With SkyView Free, your amateur stargazing experience begins primarily with the app’s simple, intuitive interface. After opening the app, you’re asked to either manually set your location, or the much simpler alternative of having the GPS locator automatically set your precise location. The purpose of this is to allow the app’s entire sky-mapping system to operate. Once you’ve set your location, you’re ready to gaze at the sky, and you can do so whether it’s day or night.
By far the most visually impressive way to utilise the app is to enable the Augmented Reality mode, which for most will be the standard mode in which you’ll prefer to operate SkyView Free. What it means is simply that, using your device’s camera, the app will overlay the visual information from your camera with its GPS-centred database of stars, known constellations, planets, satellites, and other celestial bodies. The result is a merging of astronomic diagrams and reality that you can see with your own two eyes, and it has to be said: it is mesmerising.
As you move your device’s camera and point it towards different parts of the sky, the (relatively) precise location of each celestial object appears on the screen. By default, when you target centre-flair crosshair on the screen at a constellation, a wonderful overlay of so-called “constellation art” is displayed. For example, not only does the app highlight a constellation like Orion with simple join-the-dots motifs, it also overlays a more comprehensively-designed and easily-identifiable representation of each constellation.
The interface is easily-operated by even a technological novice, and makes for a stunning bit of viewing for stargazers in particular. It would be the ultimate experience to visit one of the many ideal stargazing locations listed on sites like Dark Sky Discovery, perhaps allowing this app to be utilised as a general guide for amateur astronomers before they drill down to detail with their telescopes.
An App that’s not Just for Stargazers
This isn’t just an app catering for fans of the billions of stars in the sky, however. The app’s dynamically-mapped database of celestial objects also includes the positions of many planets in this solar system, as well as individual stars (not just constellations), the sun and moon, and satellites such as the Hubble Telescope. Not only is each object’s position mapped across the sky, however, but information about each object centred in the circular viewfinder is displayed at the bottom of the screen. This makes it one of the most interactive encyclopaedias of astronomy-based knowledge to exist on the app-store. Information isn’t quite as detailed or comprehensive as some of the paid-for apps out there, however, but it will do considering that the app is free to download!
Adding to the app’s basic functionality, Terminal Eleven even included calendar integration, allowing you to take note of future celestial events. You can set the app to remind you of the time of each event – this could range from the passing of a comet to a launch – and you can then utilise the app to allow you to view exactly where in the night sky the event is taking place! Other functions include viewing snapshots of the night sky at a selected date in the past, and even integration with peripherals such as Terminal Eleven’s Space Navigator Binoculars.
Finally, the app’s design has been kept wonderfully simple, meaning that anyone – even technophobes – can use it. It’s really just a case of point and tap, with occasional navigating of simple menus, and taking snapshots of the sky if you wish. It’s not as rich in functions as paid-for apps like Mobile Observatory, but for a free app, it does a lot more than you’d think!