Star Gazing Apps

SkEye: An advanced Planetarium and PUSHTO guide for telescopes

Astronomy is quite the complex craft, usually with professionals in the field requiring years of study and knowledge of the night sky that would have given even Patrick Moore a run for his money. For the aspiring astronomer, simply owning a telescope sometimes isn’t enough; you need to know where to point your expensive telescope once you’ve got it set up. This is where SkyEye comes in, acting as sky-mapping interface, an intermediary between the cold, expensive hardware of the telescope and the amateur astronomers’ brain.

The primary purpose of the app is to let you know where to look once you know the object you want your sights trained on, but as this review should remind you, its comprehensive database of celestial objects is just the beginning.

Primary Uses

So, seeing as this app isn’t intended to be a fully-comprehensive encyclopaedia of the skies complete with lengthy chunks of information about visible objects, what exactly is it good for? Well, this is one of the few apps in existence today whose primary purpose is to be used in conjunction with astronomy hardware such as high-powered telescopes. In fact, one of the main aspects of SkyEye’s functionality is based around the prerequisite that your device has been mounted on or affixed to a telescope or other star-gazing device.

Used in its device-mounted capacity (likely by intermediate/expert astronomers), the app can act as an all-in-one DSC (Digital Setting Circles). The app can therefore be used as a PUSHTO guide, allowing you to calibrate and set your telescope’s alignment without the need for additional hardware. Don’t worry, though: this app isn’t just made exclusively for people that own an extensive collection of telescopes and other astronomy hardware. The hand-held functionality of the app makes it rather similar to Google’s Sky Eye, allowing the user to use their device to point at the skies, where it provides an on-screen mapping of the objects in the night sky, with a high degree of accuracy thanks to the app’s use of your device’s GPS, Tilt sensors, and Magnetometer.

Further Features

The fact that this app’s primary function is for it to be utilised as a secondary tool mounted on a primary device makes it quite unique in its field. Thankfully, the app possesses features to make it useful for both those that own a telescope and those that do not.

For those wishing to use the app in conjunction with a telescope, it can be a powerful tool. After being mounted to your telescope and of course calibrated, it can act as a Digital Setting Circle tool, negating the need for more expensive equipment. The downside is that since it’s an all-in-one tool and is self-calibrating, its functionality is limited to the quality of the Magnetometer in your device, as well as the accuracy of its GPS and gyroscope. The relative inaccuracy of the app as a DSC and/or PushTo device is stated explicitly in the SkyEye user manual; its developers have made sure to be open about this limitation explicitly, so it cannot lose marks for not functioning as well as more expensive DSC/PushTo hardware.

IF you’re lacking in telescopic hardware, the app stands out much less when compared with its competition. You can use it in its automatic setting where the sky will scroll as you point the device at different parts of the sky, while the manual setting lets you swipe the screen to scroll the map overlay. There’s not really much to differentiate it from Google’s Sky Map in this sense, aside from perhaps the accurate Alt-azimuth/equatorial grids, and the NGC catalogue. One stand-out feature that’s extremely useful however, is the Night Mode setting, which adjusts the colour settings of the app in order to preserve your own eye’s adaptation to the darkness, which can otherwise be negatively affected if you’re looking at a bright screen.

Software Secondary to Hardware

To get the most out of this app, one definitely needs to already own a telescope with the appropriate mounting features. Only then can this app’s full functionality be utilised. Its primary use as a DLC/PushTo aid makes it an extremely cheap alternative to dedicated hardware designed to do the same job. The night mode function also serves to make the map more impressive, so that the astronomer can glance between the eye of the telescope and the screen without losing their eye’s adjustment to low-light conditions.

Without being used in conjunction with a telescope, however, the app stands in roughly equal footing with Google’s Sky Map. Its calibration is perhaps a little more accurate, but it doesn’t contain any encyclopaedic information about the individual objects in the night’s sky. Therefore, the app, in spite of its solid design, is only truly unique if you use it with a telescope. Otherwise, it’s barely treading water in the same pool as apps like The Night Sky, only without the design polish and comprehensive database of knowledge of its competitor.