Planets are pretty easy to spot… if you have the right map. Even spotting constellations can be hard to the person who doesn’t spend a large amount of time looking at the sky.
Luckily, as with most things, your smart phone has a solution. There are many apps that act as a map of the sky, showing all the constellations and names of stars/planets in view. However, only a few I have found that actually work. Many applications have a hard time calibrating your phone to the surroundings and end up giving you the stars pointing due west while you are actually holding your phone up to the southern sky. Now while this job isn’t easy and there is no application that will provide the perfect directional sense, there is one app that does a far superior job than the rest and that is the SkyView Free App.
All you need to do is follow the calibration instructions upon opening (dip your phone up and down) and afterwards hold your phone up to whatever object you want to know. The app will not only give you the name of the star, but also give you some fun facts about it. The one negative about the app is that it doesn’t give you the magnitude of the star (how bright in astronomy terms the star is). But other than that, it is is very useful! This app is also much cleaner than its competitors, making it much easier to read especially for novice viewers. Alright enough of me babbling…..
Also I promise I am not getting paid by SkyView this is just the application I personally used on both phones I have had after testing out several applications.
Lastly a quick tip: If you are having trouble figuring out whether your application is calibrated, check to see if it correctly points to the moon. Keep in mind some applications won’t show you where the moon is until you go into the setting of the application but it is usually a simple on or off switch.
Happy Observing! Have a great three day weekend to all the Americans!