Stargazing is a wonderful experience but navigating the night sky for the first time can feel overwhelming. Luckily, apps like Star Chart have been created to help newcomers master the hobby. Say you’ve noticed a star shining brighter than most and want to know what it is? Or you’re wondering if you can find out what strange event you spotted in the sky the other day? Well, there's an app for that and that app is Star Chart.
There’s a plethora of astronomy apps on the market at the moment (we've compiled a whole list of the best star gazing apps, if you need some guidance) but Star Chart is one of our favorites. Developed by Escape Velocity Ltd and Escapist Games, the app is available on Android and iOS devices for free, which is one of the reasons that Star Chart stands out from the pack.
Other reasons include its state-of-the-art GPS functionality, which it uses to locate you, along with its accurate 3D universe that can catapult you into the skies. Simply point your device up to the stars and you’re told exactly what’s in front of you.
It’s an amazing app for both beginners and experts alike and with a price tag of zero (although there are some in-app purchases) it’s hard not to recommend it. With additional features that can work seamlessly with some of the best telescopes, or best binoculars on the market, you can explore space virtually and then gaze at it in-person.
Star Chart review: Functionality
Star Chart uses your device's built-in compass to locate where you are and what you see when pointing your device at the skies. For devices without the compass, manual scrolling is also supported. We tested Star Chart with an iPhone 11 Pro. On first impressions, Star Chart uses impressive augmented reality technology to track your movements and location. Adapting both to landscape and portrait orientation, a wide catalog of 125,000 stars are available to explore as well as 88 constellations, numerous Messiers, and stunning visuals of the universe.
While the Star Chart app offers exploration of the skies, there are also a lot of upgrades available, which can expand the number of targets available in the app. These vary from revealing meteor showers, to extending the solar system so it includes dwarf planets and more planetary moons, to tracking comets and satellites. In other competing apps such as the Stellarium Mobile Plus app, options like the satellites are included although the upfront cost is $13.99. For Star Chart, there’s a cost that we’ll talk more about later.
We did note that while landscape and portrait orientation are available and that you can navigate around this by swiping and zooming in by pinching the screen with your fingers, the menu is only available in portrait mode so you will need to swap your phone round when navigating between the two.
Star Chart review: Design
It’s a fairly effortless design that lays out the functions simplistically for ease of use. It doesn’t overcomplicate the options and clearly labels the different viewing modes, which include planets, stars, constellations and Messiers. There is also an in-built calendar within Star Chart that outlines the different sky activities of note, such as peaks of meteor showers.
These activities also have pop-ups displaying interesting facts about the particular events. For example, when trialling the app on November 12, we were told that on this day in 1980 Voyager 1 passed by Saturn exploring its moons and ring system. This was displayed in an unobtrusive pop-up easily cancelled or viewed to take you to where the event happened in space.
Overall, it's simplistic and streamlined. This is no easy feat, as apps like Sky Safari 6 Pro can be a nightmare to navigate because of their complex design — so we're really impressed with Star Chart's straightforward functionality.
Star Chart review: Additional features
Of the extensive 125,000 star catalog, each star has the ability to be selected so you can view additional information on it. This includes characteristics, distance, brightness and celestial co-ordinates for your telescope should you wish to seek it in the sky yourself.
One impressive feature in the Star Chart app is Time Shift. In the top right corner of your screen the current time will be displayed. But, if you select the time, you have the ability to skip back and forward in time to see past and future celestial events and patterns. And this spans over the course of 10,000 years.
So, if you missed a particular event that you were waiting for, you can still see it even if you weren’t on time. We did notice though that the Time Shift feature is incredibly sensitive and requires patience to get the correct date you need when scrolling with your finger. Thankfully, ‘Now’ appears in the top left, resetting the time and date back to where you are in the present day quickly and with ease.
Star Chart review: Cost
Star Chart is a free app although, as mentioned above, there are many in-app upgrades ranging from costs of $3.99 to $12.99 an item. Depending on what you’re looking for, you might not need to purchase any or many of these upgrades to get the experience you’re after. And, if you’re happy with the 125,000 stars to explore, lower definition artwork, and lack of ability to explore local meteor showers and satellites, then this can work for you for free.
Should you buy Star Chart?
Given Star Chart is a free app so you don’t technically need to buy anything, it’s a bit of a no-brainer to at least give Star Chart a go. The fact that the base level app has a whole host of features and easily navigable design is incredibly impressive.
It's not as replete with features as something like Sky Safari Pro 6, which offers telescope control and the ability to curate a list of your observations. But it's a great option for beginners.
The free app features some in-app purchases, but it's base offering is still incredibly rich. Android owners can download it from Google Play.