2011 Best Outdoor iPhone Apps — Best Sky Apps

By Steve Casimiro


Focalware has been in my camera bag for a year or two because of its ability to display where the sun and moon will be via compass cardinal points, which it does well. If you want a no-frills solar locator, it’s a good choice. But with apps like Sun Seeker taking advantage of the iPhone’s GPS and gyroscope to display augmented reality locations of the sun, Focalware is dropping off the back.


If you’re way into satellites, GoSatWatch is worth every buck, with detailed tracking of anything you’d want to follow, from the International Space Station to Iridium satellites. It maps what’s in the sky when and will track objects on a world map in real time. And the key feature? An alarm that alerts you when something’s passing overhead.


LOVE this app. Simply point your phone at any celestial object and GoSkyWatch clues you in. It’s beautiful, a pleasure to look at, easy to use — and fast. Unlike some star finder apps, which lag as they display a map of the heavens, GSW zips around the sky as you point your find, so you can resolve Betelgeuse from Rigel in a blink. The crosshairs aid orientation, too, and when you have your goal in sight, you can tap for more information, which includes a link to its Wikipedia entry.


Simple app to tell you what’s happening in the sky above in regards to sun and moon: sunrise, sunset, phase of moon, etc. Feels more professional than Sunrise Sunset, offers a bit more info.

Moon Atlas

The most powerful moon-specific app. Six bucks will weed out the casual from the lunartics, which is a shame cause this is one very sweet and detailed application. It represents the big chunk of cheese as a sphere, which is how you really see it (as opposed to flattened), and has 1,800 named features and the locations of 26 spacecraft. You can search for features by name (or select from a list)…it would be nice if there were descriptions of those places, their history or more info on the name.


A good choice if all you want is the basics: Divides the moon into quadrants and lets you scroll through seamless NASA photos of lunar surface, with 200 named objects. The image zips across the screen with the flick of your finger–it’s a great companion with binoculars. But you’re left wanting more detail, more objects, more resolution. All those features are available for $2 with the full version.


Wondering whether that bright spot is Venus or Mars? Now you know. Planets locates the sun’s satellites in the sky, then goes way beyond, displaying the heavens in visible light and also showing how they would look if you could see x-rays, microwaves, and more. It shows you when the planets rise and set, provides basic info on each, and, coolest of all, displays each of them as a rotating globe stitched together with NASA images.

Satellite Watcher

Up in the sky! It’s a plane! It’s…it’s…it’s a CIA eavesdropping satellite! If you’ve ever seen tiny, fast-moving speck of light in the sky, it almost assuredly was some kind of satellite — this app will tell you which one and how big it is. Rudimentary, but look at the cost.


Like many star apps, this full featured finder uses the GPS and internal motion sensor to let you point your iPhone at the sky while it displays a map of constellations, planets, meteors, and other objects. It’s not as pretty or slick as GoSkyWatch, but is easier to search if you’re looking for something specific. And at 12 bucks, probably not worth it.

Star Walk

Star Walk was once the go-to app for sussing out stars from nebula by holding your phone up to the sky, and it’s still among the best, but GoSkyWatch edges it out for locking on objects and quickly learning about them. Where Star Walk rules is its extra features, which include seeing what’s happening in today’s sky at a glance, daily astronomy pics, and the ability to bookmark favorite objects and be led back to them in the sky. And the price — at $3 vs. $10, it’s tough to argue with Star Walk.

Sun Seeker

Oolala, this is a sexy app for photographers and anyone else who needs or wants to know where the sun will be when. It has two extremely cool functions: The 2D map pegs your current location via Google Maps and then shows the sun’s locations throughout the day. The 3D orientation is the same idea, but it show you where the sun will be in the sky. Well planned, well executed, a must-have for any photographer.

Sunrise Sunset

Stripped to the solar essence, this app displays…duh, sunrise and sunset times. You can add locations by city name or latitude/longitude and pick any date of the year. Next time you’re trying to figure out how much daylight you’ll have in August in the Aleutians, this is your app.

Want more? See the entire list of 107 awesome outdoor apps.

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