Your smartphone is already like a tiny assistant. But did you know it could be a portal to the universe, too? There are a ton of apps from esteemed agencies and third-party apps, but not all of them are worth your time. We combed through free, top-rated apps for Android and Apple devices (some of which support other platforms, too) to find the best.
We booted the ones that were riddled with ads or designed for kids but still surprisingly difficult to navigate for an all-encompassing spectrum of uses. Here are the winners:
1. Google Sky Map [Android]
A stargazer’s delight. This pocket planetarium helps you figure out what constellations, planets — maybe even a meteor shower! — you’re seeing, and allows you to toggle off any celestial bodies to narrow your search. Simply hold up your phone, and as you move it around, the screen will shift to reflect the skies above you. It is a little on the jittery end, so we recommend keeping the sensor speed on slow. You can also enable a nighttime mode to lessen your screen’s brightness. Available here.
For Apple devices: Try Sky Map.
2. Midnight Planets [Apple]
Now you can see Mars just as Curiosity does. The rover’s images are stitched together to create a seamless panorama that feels like you’re treading along on the barren planet, just like The Martian’s Mark Watney. You can also sift through images from the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. Available here.
3. NASA [Android and Apple]
Get lost in the labyrinth of outer space. This NASA portal is comprehensive: It has an array of pictures, tweets from NASA-affiliated astronauts and space centers, and mission updates — including sighting opportunities of the International Space Station from where you are. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has a complementary app called Space Images, available for Android and Apple devices. Available here.
4. NASA’s Earth Now [Android and Apple]
What satellite is above you right now? What’s the temperature in Australia? Spin Earth around to see climate change data and sort through maps that show you our planet’s vital signs, like temperatures, carbon dioxide levels, gravity fields, and more. You can even zoom in on the satellites zooming in low-Earth orbit and find out what they do. Available here.
5. Space Place Prime [Android and Apple]
A great resource for kiddos and the innately curious. (Plus, Pluto was a planet when adults learned about space in school, so it’s perfect for brushing up on your galaxy news.) This app trickles down posts and fun content like recipes from the Space Place site so you can dig into what the heck a black hole is or how GPS works. Available here.
6. Phases of the Moon [Android and Apple]
Even if you can’t see our moon in the night sky, your coven can know what stage it’s in. This app from Universe Today is especially handy for those with a telescope, as you can pinch-zoom around to pillage the lunar atlas, which features craters, Apollo landing sites, and lunar seas. Available here.