Without a doubt, one of the most wonderful pieces of equipment a person can own is a telescope. For centuries, these optical devices have been used to bring objects afar close to both the eye and the soul. And, now that most of the gift-giving this holiday season has passed, you, like a few people I know, may have received one of these instruments.
I could spend pages talking about Newtonian reflectors or laser collimators, but this being Talk Android, I’d like to give you my review of an app I have used for a few years that has made stargazing incredibly fun and easy. The app is called SkEye and it brings a planetarium straight to your smartphone or tablet.
One of the most challenging things about astronomy is finding objects in the sky to look at. Assuming your equipment is set up the way it should be, how do you determine where your planets and other celestial bodies are located? This is the main problem SkEye sets out to resolve.
SkEye works by using your device’s sensors to determine where your phone’s back-side is pointed relative to the night sky. It uses a combination of three sensors: the gyroscope, accelerometer and the magnetometer. The app uses the sensors splendidly without much lag or jitteriness and, in my experience with the app across several versions of Android, custom ROMs, and different devices, SkEye has never had any issues with reliability in pinpointing where my smartphone has been aimed.
The most powerful feature of SkEye is its search-and-direct tool. Let’s say you really want to find Neptune in the night sky, but Neptune, unlike the closer planets, is fairly hard to distinguish from the millions of other twinkling stars in the night sky. Simply click the three vertical dots in the top right of the SkEye starmap and tap “Search” in the pop-up menu. From there, you can type in or find “Neptune”. You will then be re-directed to the starmap, with a bullseye reticle and arrow that will guide you to Neptune’s location in the sky. Hopefully it’s above the horizon!
If you’re just playing around without your telescope, you can also scroll around on the starmap to see where things are. This will disable the alignment to your phone so you can freely roam about. To get back to alignment mode, just click “Back” in the top left.
SkEye’s database on objects is immense. The free version contains all stars up to Mag 8 and approximately 200 NGCs, whereas the pro version contains all stars up to Mag 10 and all known NGCs and ICs. Both versions also include Messier objects. The app will even let you locate satellites and the International Space Station!
SkEye also offers the ability to change color themes to help your eyes better switch from your device’s screen back to your telescope. The night theme uses a red-light overlay, which is very easy on the eyes in the dark so readjustment is much quicker. A lot of objects you will look at through your telescope can be faint, so if you just got done looking at a bright smartphone screen, it can take quite a while for your eyes to readjust.
In closing, if you or someone you know got their hands on a telescope this holiday season, SkEye is definitely something you don’t want to pass up. There is a free version for the app or, if you want to support the developer and get some added goodies like the complete database, the pro version will run you $6.
Have fun out there and prepare to feel very tiny when you get your first look at Jupiter!