Best stargazing apps: AR apps and virtual star maps to help you navigate the night sky

Best stargazing apps: Image shows person holding mobile up to starry night sky
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The best stargazing apps put the cosmos in the palm of your hand, letting you locate and map the galaxies, stars, and planets from almost any location on earth. They're not just an essential component of any amateur astronomer's toolkit but a fantastic entry point for anyone curious to learn more about the universe, and our place in it.

Using a stargazing app can expose you to the wonders of the night sky in a way that is more accessible and more comprehensible than any other source, and can help you develop a deep understanding of the existence of the cosmos that you can carry with you throughout your lifetime while enhancing your interest in astronomy and astrophotography.

You can do all this from the comfort of your own home or car because the apps use your smartphone's GPS to locate the constellations and deep-space objects from wherever you are.

For dedicated astronomers out in the field, however, the best stargazing apps make for an invaluable tool when paired with the best telescopes or best binoculars. Remember to pack one of the best power banks to ensure you have enough power to keep your phone charged while using one of these apps.

Take a look at the best cameras for astrophotography and the best lenses for astrophotography for the perfect astrophotography setup, if that is your goal.

Star-charting apps usually involve pointing your phone at a patch of sky, while the app displays the name and information about the object you're facing. In spite of their similarities, they differ in accuracy, complexity, features, presentation, and price.

Today's best stargazing apps deal:

Why you can trust Space Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

Sky Safari 6 Pro — Was $39.99, now $14.99 at Google Play Store (opens in new tab)

Sky Safari 6 Pro — Was $39.99, now $14.99 at Google Play Store (opens in new tab)

While this isn't a 'deal' as such, it is a significant price drop. Because the Sky Safari 6 Pro has been superseded by Sky Safari 7 Pro, the price has been slashed. The latter has a huge database extension and an improved interface, but given what you get with the Pro 6 version, the new price makes it excellent value for money.


Best stargazing apps 2023

SkySafari 6 Pro

(Image credit: SkySafari)
A clever, well-designed stargazing app with a wide selection of features.

Specifications

Standard price: $14.99
Telescope control: Yes
Free version available: Yes
AR star map: Yes
Database: Includes 100 million stars, 3 million galaxies down to 18th magnitude, and 750,000 solar system objects

Reasons to buy

+
Allows you to create a detailed observing list
+
Insightful audio tours and pronunciation guides

Reasons to avoid

-
Overwhelming layout 
-
Has been superseded by SkySafari 7 Pro

A comprehensive app that once sat at the more expensive end of the market, Skysafari 6 Pro is festooned with information about the night sky — you're almost guaranteed to learn something from it, even if you're a veteran stargazer steeped in astronomical lore. 

Before the release of SkySafari 7 Pro, SkySafari 6 Pro was an expensive app that came at a price of $39.99 with IAPs on top, however, you can now get it for just $14.99, which is fantastic given the app can identify constellations. You can also connect it to your telescope and have it guide you around the stars. A great feature is 'Tonight's Best' — a guided tour of the finest sights on show, accurate to the date and time of year.

We also love the fact that it backs up your settings and provides telescopic images and object information. As an educational tool, this app was hard to beat (before its successor came onto the scene). There are many more features that we looked at in our in-depth Sky Safari 6 Pro review, and it's even better now the price has been slashed.

The newer Sky Safari 7 Pro (opens in new tab) does have a hefty $49.99 price tag. Amongst other enhancements, the main improvements include a simplified interface and an extended database as standard. Be mindful though, it takes a whopping amount of your device's storage space.


Stellarium

(Image credit: Stellarium/ App Store)
The most realistic looking, and most comprehensive celestial database around

Specifications

Price: $19.99
Telescope control: Yes
Free version available: Yes
AR star map: Yes
Database: Over 1.69 billion stars, all known planets, natural satellites and comets, minor solar system objects including 10k asteroids and most known deep sky objects, and over 2 million nebulas and galaxies

Reasons to buy

+
Comprehensive database
+
Intuitive technology

Reasons to avoid

-
Time controls difficult to reset
-
Zooming causes image distortion
-
Limited information on celestial objects

The mobile version of the well-known open-source desktop app is a superb app that's notable for the quality of its constellation illustrations. However, unlike its Windows and Mac counterparts, you need to pay for it. This is fair enough, programmers have to make a living too, and at $19.99, it won't break the bank.

What you get for your money is a database that contains more stars than any other app but not as many asteroids as Sky Safari. As we discussed in our Stellarium Mobile Plus review, it isn't as polished as that app either, though the way it pinpoints your position using GPS and displays the sky above you is spot on — so the sky you see displayed on your phone will be pretty similar to the real sky above you. You can locate and label your favorite constellations and planets, track satellites as they traverse the sky above, and access lore and stats about the stars and planets you select, including stories from different cultures.

Zoom in, and you can access HD photos of nebulae and galaxies, though some, such as the Pleiades, could do with an update. Pointing your phone at the sky will reveal the objects you can see, while the app also easily connects to most telescopes. Overall, this is one of the better astronomy apps out there. The Google Play Store (opens in new tab) rating of 4.5 stars out of 5 (based on the feedback of 5.26K reviews) is a testament to its performance.


Star Walk 2

(Image credit: Star Walk/ App Store)
A beginner friendly informative guide for viewing the night sky

Specifications

Price: $2.99
Telescope control: No
Free version: Yes
AR star map: Yes
Database: 200,000 stars, 8 planets, 27 asteroids and comets, and 10,000 satellites

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to set up and navigate
+
Customizable, including notification settings

Reasons to avoid

-
Cheapest paid version removes ads, other features must be bought
-
Some users report calibration issues

Available as paid-for ($2.99) and free versions, the latter displaying ads and lacking features, Star Walk 2 is an augmented reality experience for the night sky, designed to be experienced through the phone screen rather than by connecting to a scope. Its easy interface makes it well-suited for beginners. We completed our Star Walk 2 review back in October 2021, but since then there have been a number of updates that have improved stability, refined notification settings, added an events calendar, and enhanced accuracy.

Let the app view the sky through your phone's camera, and it will overlay constellations in the direction you’re facing. You can also track the movement of planets and, if you pay for the upgrade, objects such as the International space Station and the Starlink satellites. There's a calm audio track that you can turn off whenever you want (which we were thankful for as we found it a little irritating!)

We liked the 'Visible Tonight' section that guides you to spectacular objects you can definitely see on a given evening, with photos and a link to its Wikipedia page for more information. Even at its most expensive, Star Walk 2 is a low-cost way to experience augmented astronomy. The free version is perfectly usable if you can live with its limitations, though we think it's worth splashing the $2.99 on.


Screenshots of the SkyView app

(Image credit: SkyView/ App Store)
Enhance your sky watching knowledge with this excellent app for all abilities and skill levels

Specifications

Price: $1.99
Telescope control: Some
Free version: Yes
AR star map: Yes
Database: Stars, planets, satellites & constellations (numbers not provided)

Reasons to buy

+
Very easy to use
+
Easy access to information

Reasons to avoid

-
The augmented reality screen is dark
-
The constellation art fades too quickly

This easy-to-use and low-cost app (there's a free version) has been around for a long time, but received many upgrades along the way. Its interactive star map recognizes night-sky options and constellations, showing their paths when they cross the center of the screen. 

This is where the app falls down slightly — you need to be very precise in your positioning to get the information you need. Move slightly away from the object you're interested in, and the details vanish — perhaps the designers had a stable tripod mount in mind rather than handheld viewing. During our SkyView review, we also found the AR screen to be extremely dark, even for viewing at night, but the graphics are clear and the illustrations of constellations are attractive.

When you do have it properly aligned, however, there's a lot of info on offer, as you can bring up full descriptions, and even link externally to the object's Wikipedia entry for more information.

The free version contains the details of fewer stars and constellations than the paid-for app, but doesn't burden you with ads. You can upgrade by buying packs of extra stars, satellites, and even a music package. Telescope integration is limited, but there's enough detail and functionality on offer here to make it attractive to novice astronomers.


Star Rover

(Image credit: Star Rover/ App Store)
A low-cost decent celestial database on your phone for the price of a small fries

Specifications

Price: $1.99
Telescope Control: No
Free version: No
AR star map: Yes
Database: 120,000 stars, 88 constellations, planets and moons and other sky objects

Reasons to buy

+
One of the more affordable stargazing apps
+
Easy to use and navigate the stars
+
Fully customizable night sky settings

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited database compared to other apps
-
Occasional app glitches

A nicely designed app that's not too expensive, Star Rover is let down slightly by the size of its database, which doesn't contain as many stars and other objects as its competitors.

This in no way makes Star Rover a poor app, however — 120,000 stars is still plenty, and it contains all the most interesting and brightest ones. It offers similar functionality to other apps, giving an augmented view of the night sky with constellations marked with illustrations, and tracks for the planets and other notable objects. While there's a search feature that can ferret out any area of the sky you’re interested in looking at, there's little additional information on offer once you’ve found what you're looking for.

Due to its basic interface and blurry font, we felt in our Star Rover review, that the app is starting to look rather dated and could do with an update. Despite this, it's perfectly usable, has a complete moon phase and eclipse calendar, and can show you objects yet to rise above the horizon, and is extremely competitively priced.


Starlight app

(Image credit: Starlight/ App Store)
An easy-to-use app for learning the basics of stargazing

Specifications

Price: $1.99
Telescope control: No
Free version: Yes
AR star map: Yes
Database: 100,000 stars, 88 constellations, no man made objects

Reasons to buy

+
AR overlay that mirrors the night sky
+
Original artwork for constellations
+
Some stars have vast amounts of information to read through

Reasons to avoid

-
Refers you to Wikipedia for reading on most stars
-
Doesn't contain man-made objects like the ISS
-
Too basic for anyone with pre-existing knowledge

A rather basic app that's not only cheap, but comes with an ad-supported free version, Starlight is deceptively simple, as discussed in our Starlight review.

The app offers an augmented view of the heavens, with plenty of information on offer. Find something interesting, tap the screen twice, and you’ll be immersed in details about it. Unfortunately, if you're interested in man-made objects like the International Space Station, you won't find it here — its database only covers natural objects. 

And while it's possible to zoom in and find dimmer stars that can be obscured by light pollution, there's not much detail about them here. Stick to the brightest objects in the night sky, and Starlight will fill you in nicely, with links to Wikipedia to flesh out the facts.

The ads in the free version take up rather a lot of the screen, so if you’re serious about this beginner's guide to the galaxy, you'll get a better experience by paying up. It's only $2/£2, although for that price you could also get one of the above options that we rate slightly better. The main reason to go for this option? Its limited database means that you'll just get the basics when you're stargazing, so you can focus on learning the main stars first. 


Best Stargazing Apps 2021: SkEye app

(Image credit: SkEye )
A free but feature-rich stargazing app

Specifications

Price: $9.99 (full version)
Telescope Control: Yes
Free Version: Yes
AR Star Map: No
Database: Stars, planets, satellites & constellations (numbers not provided)

Reasons to buy

+
Simple interface
+
Highly customizable
+
Free without Ads

Reasons to avoid

-
Only available for Android phones
-
Satellites are only available in paid Pro version

For a stargazing app that offers such a rich, dense resource to observe the night sky with, it’s remarkable that SkEye provides most of its features for free. And while — as discussed in our SkEye app review — it might not be the most user-friendly of stargazing apps, with little of the visual polish that distinguishes others on this list, the app is still fairly uncluttered and simple to use, once you've taken the time to explore it a little.

The basic version of SkEye is available without adverts, while the pro version has the advantage of highlighting over 100 satellites, 800 comets, and adds the ability to create a custom catalog for quick access to your favorite objects.

SkEye is a great app for astro-enthusiasts, but novices may find the app a little inscrutable at first, due to its fondness for layering advanced metrics and obscure abbreviations over its subjects. If you just need the app to locate a particular object, SkEye includes a fantastic search function that gives easy directions to a chosen object.

For enthusiasts though, SkEye is particularly well suited to pairing with a telescope, being compatible with its OTA (optical tube assembly). The app even has a handy 'Insta-align' function to simplify the fiddly process. 

Most stargazers will find everything they need for a rewarding night of observation in SkEye, and the fact that it is free — although sadly unavailable on Apple's app store — makes it a very attractive app.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Ian Evenden
Contributor

Ian has been a journalist for over 20 years. He's written for magazines and websites on subjects such as astronomy, quantum physics, keeping fish, PC hardware, photo editing and gardening. Ian was also editor of Windows Help and Advice magazine and the Discover Science bookazines. In his spare time he has a pet tortoise and grows his own vegetables, but wishes he had more time for photography.