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

Use one of the best stargazing apps to view the cosmos on a new, immersive level. If you're an astrophotographer looking to use the advanced features to pinpoint a constellation, or a new skywatcher keen to understand what you're looking at, these apps can be great to have in your back pocket. 

Stargazing apps use the GPS on your phone to guide you through the night sky, which can be helpful if you're setting up one of the best telescopes or the best telescopes for deep space. They have offline functionality, which means you aren't reliant on the internet to keep them working in remote areas — perfect when avoiding light pollution when getting the best shot with one of the best cameras for astrophotography. Plus, they run conveniently on a smartphone, so as long as you have your phone on you, you'll have access to their guidance.

What's more, some of the apps on our list offer free versions or free trials, so you can put them to the test before committing to spending money on a one-time payment or subscription. 

Profile picture of Jase Parnell-Brookes with tree and grass in the background.
Jase Parnell-Brookes

Jase Parnell-Brookes is an award-winning photographer, educator and writer based in the UK. They won the Gold Prize award in the Nikon Photo Contest 2018/19 and was named Digital Photographer of the Year in 2014. After completing their Masters Jase has spent a good chunk of two decades studying and working in photography and optics shooting and writing all over the world for big-name brands and media outlets. Now the Channel Editor for Cameras and Skywatching at Space.com their speciality is in low light optics and camera systems. 

The quick list

See our quick list below if you want to dive right in, or scroll further down for more detailed reviews of each app.

The best stargazing apps we recommend in 2023

Why you can trust Space.com 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 and review products.

Best stargazing app overall

Best overall: A clever, well-designed stargazing app with a wide selection of features

Specifications

Price: From $21.99
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

+
Creates detailed observing lists
+
Controls Celestron StarSense telescopes
+
Clear user interface

Reasons to avoid

-
Large download size
-
Takes time to learn
-
Can be expensive
Buy it if

✅ You're looking for a large database: SkySafari 7 Pro has one of the most extensive databases on our list.

✅ You want to be able to plan your stargazing in detail: the Observing Planner on this app is fantastic for planning your stargazing trips in advance.

✅ You already own a Celestron StarSense telescope: SkySafari 7 Pro is an ideal app for controlling Celestron StarSense telescopes.

Don't buy it if:

❌ You're a new or casual stargazer: SkySafari 7 Pro is on the more expensive side and you may not need all the sophisticated features it offers.

❌ You want something quick and easy: it can take a bit of time to get the hang of.

❌ You have limited space on your device: SkySafari 7 Pro takes up a hefty 2.4GB of storage.

The bottom line

🔎 SkySafari 7 Pro: this is one of the best apps out there if you want to get serious about your stargazing and astrophotography. It is particularly good for telescope control and has one of the largest databases you'll find, but it may be overkill for some. ★★★★★

The SkySafari 7 Pro app is on the more expensive side of the market for a stargazing app, but with good reason. As we discovered in our SkySafari 7 Pro review, this app is an absolute powerhouse when it comes to its space database, offering details on millions of stars, galaxies and other space objects. The planetarium page syncs seamlessly with the night sky whatever way you're holding your phone and also offers an impressive AR overlay option via your phone's camera.

Astrophotographers will love the app's Observing Planner, which allows you to select the kind of objects that you want to observe (like galaxies, globular clusters or nebulas) and sort results by location. The Tonight's Best feature also lists the best objects on show in the sky that night, allowing you to plan your shooting schedule in fine detail.

Seasoned stargazers will appreciate SkySafari 7 Pro's ability to control Celestron StarSense telescopes via WiFi. The app also adds a social element to stargazing with OneSky, which shows you the most popular object currently being viewed by other users, and SkyCast, which lets you share your observations with another user.

Keep an eye on prices because you can sometimes get all these features for an even lower price than the previous SkySafari 6 Pro, as well as being treated to a slicker user interface and a greatly expanded database. The only thing to be aware of is that this app takes up a large amount of storage space on your device.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Test results
AttributesNotesRating
User InterfaceNeat, fast and responsive★★★★★
Key FeaturesHuge database and telescope control★★★★★
Astrophotography FeaturesUseful light pollution map★★★★★

Best for astrophotographers

Best for astrophotographers: The best app for location scouting, with maps and calculators

Specifications

Price: From $10.99
Telescope control: No
Free version available: No
AR star map: Yes
Database: N/A

Reasons to buy

+
Simple, slick design
+
Useful AR features
+
Location scouting features

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive app
-
Steep learning curve
-
Only works in portrait mode
Buy it if

✅ Your main interest is astrophotography: PhotoPills truly cannot be beaten for planning astrophotography shooting sessions.

✅ You want to get the perfect shot: PhotoPills will help you plan and set yourself up to get incredible shots that might otherwise feel impossible.

✅ You want to feel part of a community: PhotoPills lets you share photos and points of interest with other astrophotographers.

Don't buy it if:

❌ Your main interest is stargazing: PhotoPills is really geared up towards astrophotographers, so other apps are better for pure stargazing.

❌ You want something simple and straightforward: with its array of features and functionality, PhotoPills takes a while to get the hang of.

The bottom line

🔎 PhotoPills: we think PhotoPills is a must-have app for those who are serious about astrophotography and want to get the perfect shot of particular objects in the night sky. Its astrophotography features are unmatched, but it's not ideal for casual stargazing. ★★★★★

PhotoPills is a sophisticated stargazing app, calculator, map and celestial almanac rolled into one. It scored top marks in our PhotoPills app review and will be especially appealing to astrophotographers since it helps you to work out the date, time and the best shooting spot to capture your chosen celestial event. In addition to this, it can suggest an appropriate lens to use and calculate the optimal exposure and depth of field settings for your target object — awesome! 

PhotoPills is especially well-suited for astrophotography involving capturing celestial events behind specific landmarks. You can use the app to plan your shoot and find the perfect spot — capture the Milky Way rising over a mountain or the Andromeda Galaxy setting behind a castle. Once you have your shot, you can share it with the wider PhotoPills community.

Because it has so many functionalities, PhotoPills takes some time to fully get to grips with. The Planner feature shows you the exact sightline, azimuth and altitude for the sun and the moon. The app's ability to trace the path of upcoming events like lunar and solar eclipses across a world map enables you to plan the perfect location and timing for your shots well in advance. When you're out in the field shooting on location, the AR and Night AR modes even allow you to overlay the paths of the sun and the moon on the sky in front of you. In our review, we also tested out the Visibility GC feature and were able to use this to take some stunning photos of the Milky Way's galactic core.

The PhotoPills app is perfect for serious astrophotographers who want to plan their shots carefully in advance and can take full advantage of its wealth of specialist features. Beginners or more casual users might find it a bit complex and expensive.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Test results
AttributesNotesRating
User InterfaceSimple grid design★★★★★
Key FeaturesLots of tools and calculators★★★★★
Astrophotography FeaturesTruly exhaustive planning features★★★★★

Best for Apple users

Best for Apple users: Thanks to its detailed interface and light pollution adjustment

Specifications

Price: $5.99 a month, $39.99 annually
Telescope control: No
Free version available: Yes
AR star map: Yes
Database: 1.7 billion (premium version)

Reasons to buy

+
Very easy to use
+
Great, detailed interface
+
Adjustable for light pollution

Reasons to avoid

-
No Android version
-
Can feel cluttered without filtering
-
Some features require premium membership
Buy it if

✅ You're a beginner: Night Sky 11 is easy to use, even with little prior knowledge.

✅ You enjoy AR features: there's a lot on offer in terms of AR on this app, especially on the premium version.

✅ You want to try astrophotography: Night Sky 11 is good for getting your first taste of astrophotography with your phone.

Don't buy it if:

❌ You're a more seasoned astronomer: those with more experience might prefer an app with more extensive features like telescope control.

❌ You're bothered by too much on the screen: although you can filter what it shows, the interface on Night Sky 11 can look a little cluttered.

The bottom line

🔎 Night Sky 11: we think this is a great app for Apple users who are starting out on their stargazing journey. It includes novel AR functionality as well as basic astrophotography features, but more experienced users may be looking for more than it can offer. ★★★★½

Night Sky 11 is a nifty stargazing app designed specifically for Apple devices. It features many of the basic functions you'd expect from a stargazing app, such as the ability to point your phone towards the sky to reveal constellations and galaxies, alongside some innovative Augmented Reality (AR) features and handy astrophotography features.

Tapping on the 'i' icon next to any object of interest will bring up a lengthy description of what you're seeing. The app works in portrait or landscape mode, but takes this even further by offering a 360-degree function. This means that pointing your phone at the ground will show constellations that would be visible on the other side of the world, allowing you to see what has just dipped below the horizon.

The AR on this app is impressive, working both outdoors and indoors by projecting the overlays onto your ceiling. The Plus version has a novel AR feature called 'Planetary Portals' which allows you to tap on a planet or moon within the solar system and then 'step through' the portal to view astronomy data from a new perspective. You can also try your hand at some basic astrophotography via this app, with inbuilt focus, noise reduction and ISO adjustment.

Whilst much of this is available on the generous free tier, unlocking the full 1.7 billion star count and some of the more advanced features will require an upgrade to Night Sky +, though you can take advantage of a month-long trial before you commit.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Test results
AttributesNotesRating
User InterfaceHandy 360 degree function★★★★
Key FeaturesNovel AR planetary portals★★★★★
Astrophotography FeaturesAuto or manual adjustment options★★★★★

Best for entertainment

Best for entertainment: Contains NASA TV, podcasts and ability to gaze into the cosmos

Specifications

Price: Free
Telescope control: N/A
Free version available: Already free
AR star map: Yes
Database: N/A

Reasons to buy

+
Simple design
+
Easy to navigate
+
Share and cast content

Reasons to avoid

-
SkyView only works on iOS
-
Wallpapers only work on Android
-
English language only
Download it if

✅ You want to learn lots: the NASA app makes a whole host of space information available at your fingertips.

✅ You want to follow NASA missions: the NASA app is sure to keep you up to date with all the latest photos and videos from their missions.

✅ You enjoy interactive features: with the NASA app, you can virtually whizz around the universe and zoom in on different objects.

Don't download it if:

❌ You want a traditional stargazing app: the NASA app isn't the best choice if you simply want to point your phone at the sky and find out what's up there.

❌ You're looking for an app for astrophotography: this isn't an area where the NASA app particularly shines and other apps would be better suited.

The bottom line

🔎 NASA app: the NASA app is a great educational resource to learn about space and keep up to date on all the latest news from NASA missions. However, it is limited on stargazing and astrophotography features and more geared towards entertainment. ★★★★½

The NASA app isn't a stargazing app in the traditional sense, although it offers a basic planetarium feature called SkyView on its iOS version only. Instead, it's an absolute treasure trove of information about all things NASA, from current missions to press releases and images of the day. And since everything about the app is completely free, with no paywalls in sight, we think it's definitely worth you downloading and exploring it for yourself.

The app has a very minimalistic and intuitive interface with lots of beautiful visuals from NASA's huge image library. The Images tab will take you to an in-app version of NASA's Image of the Day (IOTD) and Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) where you can rate, store and share your favorites. From the home screen, you can also scroll through the latest news articles or tap on the Missions tab to see details and updates from all of NASA's live missions.

The entertainment hub is stored under the TV and Audio tab. This includes a built-in NASA TV feed which lets you view their live channel at any time to see coverage of launches, dockings to the International Space Station (ISS), news conferences and more. It also lets you access radio and podcasts to listen to on the go.

Kids will particularly enjoy the interactive elements of the app, which allow you to whizz around the Solar System and tap on different objects to learn more information about them. The app is also ideal if you're hoping to catch a glimpse of the ISS flying across the sky as you can set it to notify you five, 10 or 15 minutes ahead of when it's due to pass over your specific location. All in all, this free NASA app has plenty to spark the curiosity of children and adults alike and is a great download for space enthusiasts.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Test results
AttributesNotesRating
User InterfaceSimple with good visuals★★★★★
Key FeaturesLots of pictures, videos and news★★★★★
Astrophotography FeaturesSkyView feature only on iOS★★★★

Best for realism

Best for realism: 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
+
Easily connects to telescopes

Reasons to avoid

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

✅ You're a stargazing beginner: Stellarium Mobile Plus offers traditional stargazing app functionality with a large database and no prior knowledge required.

✅ You want the chance to view objects close up: Stellarium Mobile Plus lets you view HD photos of the moon, nebulas and galaxies.

✅ You need telescope control: this app offers effective telescope control via Bluetooth or WiFi.

Don't buy it if:

❌ You're mainly interested in astrophotography: although this does allow you to locate and track particular objects, some other apps have more comprehensive astrophotography features.

❌ You're looking to save money: you could try the free browser version of Stellarium instead, but that does mean losing the offline functionality of the app.

The bottom line

🔎 Stellarium Mobile Plus: we found the app to be particularly impressive for its illustrations and HD photos, giving newcomers to stargazing a very immersive experience. It also offers effective telescope control, but keen astrophotographers may want to look elsewhere. ★★★★

Stellarium originated as an open-source planetarium desktop program and the Stellarium Mobile Plus app was developed by the same creators. It contains an extremely comprehensive map based on the Gaia DR2 database, which includes over 1.69 billion stars and all known planets and comets from a catalog of over 2 million nebulas and galaxies. Few apps can come close to matching those numbers.

The app uses the GPS on your smartphone to display a map of the stars that are above you in real-time, and you can also link the app to your telescope via Bluetooth or WiFi, making it a great companion for serious astronomers. Whilst it doesn't give quite as detailed information on different objects as some other stargazing apps, it offers fantastic high-definition photos of the Moon, nebulas and galaxies that you can zoom in on.

Another fun feature on this app is the ability to move about in time. This means that you can fast forward to see what will be visible later in the night or select a particular date to view. In our Stellarium Mobile Plus review we found that this feature can get a bit buggy if overused, but it's still a neat function to have.

The app is reasonably priced, but if you're dead set on saving money then it's worth noting that the original desktop version does work on a mobile browser. However, it doesn't offer the same offline functionality as the app so it will be less useful in remote stargazing spots.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Test results
AttributesNotesRating
User InterfaceMinimalist and intuitive★★★★
Key FeaturesEffective planetarium and telescope control★★★★
Astrophotography FeaturesUseful observation tools★★★★

Best for beginners

Best for beginners: A beginner-friendly informative guide for viewing the night sky

Specifications

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

Reasons to buy

+
Free version with ads
+
Easy to set up and navigate
+
Customizable, including notification settings

Reasons to avoid

-
Many features are paid add-ons
-
Some users report calibration issues
-
No content transfer when upgrading
Buy it if

✅ You're a beginner: we think the easy set-up and navigation on this app make it a great option for beginners.

✅ You want to plan a stargazing or shooting session: the Visible Tonight feature and option to speed up time make it easy to plan ahead.

✅ You're looking for an affordable option: we think that Star Walk 2 offers a lot of features for a relatively low price.

Don't buy it if:

❌ You want to control a telescope: you won't be able to use Star Walk 2 to control your telescope.

❌ You want a very extensive database: while Star Walk 2 has a fair offering, some apps on this list offer a broader database.

The bottom line

🔎 Star Walk 2: this app is a great option for beginners and comes in at a low price point even on the paid version. It's full of handy features for learning more about the night sky, but the lack of telescope control may be a deal-breaker for some. ★★★★

Star Walk 2 is a great option for beginners who just want to dip their toe in and see what a stargazing app can do. The free version is generous, with occasional ads, and it only costs $5.99 to access all features including ad-ons, which is relatively inexpensive for a stargazing app.

The app packs in a lot for that price. Its database contains 200,000 stars, eight planets, 27 asteroids and comets and 10,000 satellites. It's very easy to set up and navigate, and moving your phone in any direction will give you information about what's currently visible in the night sky. Tapping on the camera icon switches the map to AR mode and overlays constellations, planets and satellites on the sky above you.

Planning your stargazing adventures is easy with the Star Walk 2 app. It has a 'Visible Tonight' tab where you can see which popular planets and constellations are due to make an appearance in your location. You can also fast forward in time to see how constellations or planets will progress across the night sky, which is handy for setting up your telescope in advance.

Another feature we loved is the optional filters, which includes x-ray, gamma-ray, h-alpha, radio and microwave. This lets you view hidden aspects of space objects that would never normally be visible with the naked eye.

Although Sky Walk 2 lacks some of the sophisticated features offered by the likes of SkySafari 7 Pro, it is a much friendlier starting point for beginners and comes at a very affordable price.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Test results
AttributesNotesRating
User InterfaceIntuitive and customizable★★★★
Key FeaturesAR overlay and filter options★★★★
Astrophotography FeaturesVisible Tonight feature for planning★★★★

Best for information