How augmented reality can help your stargazing

Eva Triantafillopoulou

The media had a lot to say about the ravishing total solar eclipse that traced its path of totality (when the moon completely covers the sun) across North America this week. Standing out for its beauty and ability to unite people, this astronomical event, commonly perceived as a rare once in a lifetime experience, is actually rather frequent.

You see, contrary to popular belief a total eclipse of the sun can be seen, on average, every 18 months. If you include partial, annular and hybrid eclipses into the equation, the numbers are much higher. According to calculations from NASA, there are 2-3 eclipses of all kinds each year. In other words: Not THAT rare!

The tricky part, however, is to actually be where the action is when it happens or to know when and where to look up once these astronomical phenomena are within your view.

The good news is that there is a solution: AR enhanced stargazing apps

Those who do not want to miss the next total solar eclipse, breathtaking meteor shower or any other significant sky event in the future, should consider downloading one of the many stargazing apps available today. Users can be notified of upcoming cosmic events and, thanks to augmented reality technology, see a real-time representation of exactly what they are looking at when pointing their smartphones to the sky. All in all, what are the main features of stargazing AR apps?

  • spot, identify and be guided to objects in the sky
  • simulate the paths of planets, comets, stars, meteor showers, constellations, clusters, galaxies, etc. to see their track at any given point in time or location
  • find and follow the trajectory of the International Space Station, the Hubble telescope or other artificial satellites passing overhead
  • view charted objects superimposed on real sky objects set timers to be notified of astronomical events in your proximity
  • view image galleries and detailed information of celestial objects
  • configure settings to filter the sky and visualize only the objects of interest
  • see how the sky is aligned on the opposite hemisphere
  • navigate through interactive star maps

With over 50 million installs, the open sourced Sky Map app from Google is most definitely a favorite, however, other names such as Star Chart, Star Walk, Skyview, Distant Suns, Sky Guide and more, are definitely making a great contribution. If you are keen on keeping track of astronomical happenings in the future or simply interested in exploring the cosmos from the comfort of your phone, give this type of app a try.

Mankind has been looking up at the sky for ages. In the distant past, one could only gaze up to the stars in wonder and ponder about their significance.

Today, with easy access to collective knowledge combined with innovative technologies, much has changed, but the wonder lives on. Which cosmic event are you looking forward to observing?

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