Almost all calendar systems are approximations of astronomical cycles, and it follows then that a solid grounding in astronomy is a prerequisite for understanding any calendrical system. The thing is, if you want to understand astronomy and you live in a built up area, you’ll find that light pollution makes it very hard to see all but the brightest objects in the night sky.
Last night I popped outside to scan the skies for an interesting astronomical event… as you do. About 6pm UTC the moon passed in front of Jupiter. Scanning the skies for the lunar occultation I was reminded of how easy it was to find my way around the sky using the astronomy software on my old Palm palmtop. These days I carry an iPhone so I decided to hit the Apple AppStore to see what astronomy software is out there.
Best Newbie: GoSkyWatch
What I like about GoSkyWatch is that it’s not a straight port of some existing software. It plays to the unique features and strengths of the iPhone.Â GoSkyWatch is optimised for quick rendering. Maybe I’m a UX junkie but even though some of the other software I found offers more in terms of deep sky detail, the fluidity of accelerometer tracking was really impressive.
Best Pro: StarMap
image of StarMap Pro
StarMap Pro tba
Looking at the info on StarMap it seemed to be the most sophisticated iPhone astronomy software currently on the market. Then I got wind of StarMap Pro. Due in January 2009, it’s a whole new world of wow. It sports a much larger Ephemeris (22600 objects with rise, transit and set times), telescope control (yes you read that right), eyepiece emulation and a raft of other features. This sounds like a must have for any serious iPhone carrying astronomer.
Best Free: Starry Night Mobile
Starry Night is the king of astronomy software. It’s been around forever and is available in a version to suit every wallet. What’s interesting about this version is that it’s free. That’s because strictly speaking this isn’t software – it’s a website. The whole experience is optimised for viewing on the iPhone. Just follow the link above, set your viewing location and let the app do the rest. I suspect this is probably a stopgap app until they can get a proper iPhone app to market. They are going to have to go some to beat StarMap Pro though.