Star Gazing Apps

Heavens Above App Review

Precise pass predictions for the ISS, visible satellites, Iridium flares & radio satellites

If you’re even a little into your app-fuelled astronomy, you’ll already know that the astronomy-app market has long reached its saturation point. There are simply too many apps, with a majority lacking a unique selling point. Heavens Above walks the line between familiar astronomy-app functionality and uniqueness, however, with its star-mapping potential blending rather seamlessly with its emphasis on dynamic, live information about satellites and other celestial bodies that are due to imminently become visible in the night sky. The appeal of Heavens above, therefore, is to those with a curiosity about the night’s sky, but specifically the knowledge regarding ISS pass times and iridium flare events.

An Overview of the App

The target audience for the Heavens Above app will primarily consist of those who have used the well-established satellite and iridium-flare location tracker website. This is because the primary function of the Heavens Above app is to act as an extension of the website’s capabilities. In contrast to many of the general astronomy/star-mapping apps out there, Heavens Above’s interface is built with satellite and iridium-flare tracking in mind.

The resulting interface is a comparatively rudimentary one: live sky chart, nightly events, ISS, and Iridium Flares sections comprise the main bulk of the app’s content. Each of these options can be accessed from the simple main menu, studded in black with white writing. The simple, largely monochrome colour scheme – this can be turned to dark or light mode, depending on preferences –  contrasts nicely with a close-angle photograph of the top section of earth from outer space, with the bottom right-hand corner of the photograph overlaid with a simply textual reminder of the GPS-based capabilities of the app, as well as the small cog icon giving you access to the app’s settings.

Tracking Satellites and Other Objects

The casual users of the app will find the most useful aspect of its content to be the Nightly Events section. A tap on this option will bring up another relatively plain list of the major events scheduled to take place in the immediate future. Moonrise and Sunset have a consistent presence, of course, while evens such as rocket and satellite passes are listed chronologically. Tap on any one of these items and the interface will switch to the Sky Chart where the path of your selected object can be seen mapped onto the screen-wide depiction of the Earth. Further coordinate details are also displayed below the Sky Chart.

One of the more impressive features of the app is the Orbit aspect of the Sky Chart. With an object selected, you are able to swipe to the right of the Sky Chart in order to bring up the “Orbit” interface, which brings up three different views of earth with the satellite’s path mapped over each of them. The main view is the classic Mercader projection of the earth, with the satellite’s path winding up and down over the projection, which is also displays the daylight/darkness graphics over the top of it. The bottom-left projection is of the circular globe, showing the linear path of the satellite or other objects. The final orbital view shows a side-on projection of the satellite’s path, allowing you to visualise its relief from the earth’s atmosphere.

ISS and Iridium Flares

The main use of Heavens Above for long-time users of the website will be for tracking the ISS and the incidence of Iridium flares, however. Both of these sections of the app are constructed in a similar fashion to the others, with a tap on each bringing up the imminent passes or occurrences of the respective object.

Tapping on each occurrence once again brings you back to the Sky Chart, where you can see the accurately-mapped path of the ISS and precise location of Iridium Flares mapped accurately utilising your device’s GPS.

A Simple Yet Effective Specialist App

You wouldn’t readily call Heavens Above a star-gazing app in the same sense as its competition. Instead, what you can expect is a specialised interface developed to allow you to track specific objects across the sky. Most users of the app will mainly enjoy the ISS and Iridium Flares tracking, while more casual users can view the nightly events mapped out on the Sky Chart. And it is the Sky Chart interface that acts as the converging section of the app’s multiple paths.

Virtually every section of the app leads back to the Sky Chart, so it’s a shame that the chart is a little rudimentary in its design. There are no 3D depictions of objects, for example, but the Orbit section does offer a more intriguing view of each object’s path across various views of planet earth. The app isn’t hugely useful for exploring items deeper in space, but the present of constellations on the Sky Chart at least maps the general location of each star cluster. In all, Heavens Above is a well-designed extension of the Heavens Above website, and a great alternative to web-based trackers like NASA’s Spot the Station.