|Knowing when and where the Milky Way would appear over this alpine lake was easy with the Sky Guide app.|
Compared to Stellarium: For the last two years I have used and recommended the free, open-source, planetarium desktop program, Stellarium. Why? Because Stellarium can look into the future and tell you where the stars and the Milky Way will be positioned on any day, and at any location on the earth. There are dozens of star reference apps out there, but very few can do predictions.
Despite Stellarium's lofty position with many astronomers, It's a love-hate relationship for some. It's a program designed by geeks, for geeks. Although Stellarium is very accurate, it's anything but user friendly. Sky Guide is less exact, but it is elegant and fun to use.
|A Stellarium screen capture where the latitude and longitude grids were applied to help better define positions.|
|Sky Guide only shows the eight major compass headings (i.e. N, NE, E), but images are very elegant and realistic.|
Both Sky Guide and Stellarium use preference settings to display or remove mythology or folklore.
Sky Guide Features: I was impressed that Sky Guide functioned with or without a Wi-Fi, data, or GPS signal, as I was able to use it in true wilderness conditions, and it worked flawlessly. I loved the visuals in this star app. With the high-resolution photographs in this app you’ll see millions of stars—not just a few thousand simulated points. You can also control the intensity of star light with HDR brightness gestures to dial in your local viewing conditions. Here is a list of features:
- Rich content: Generous amounts of stunning graphics, original artwork, and detailed articles.
- Soundscape: Designed by Mat Jarvis, the most featured composer in the award-winning soundtrack for the game Osmos. Stars have sounds based on their temperature and size.
- Useful anywhere: Works with or without a GPS or data signal. Built-in access to hundreds of articles no matter where you are.
- Time controls: Know where objects will appear in the future with cinematic time-lapse effects.
- New as of vesrion 3.2: Filter: X-ray the sky and explore invisible wonders. More languages! French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese (Traditional) and Chinese (Simplified).
- HDR brightness gestures: Dynamically control how bright the sky is to match how many stars you can see under light-polluted skies.
- Red night mode: Preserve your dark-adapted eyesight.
Time Controls Demo: The best way for you to appreciate this great feature is for me to demonstrate how Sky Guide helped me plan for the photo at the top of this post. Here is an iPhone panorama I took of the area the day before:
|A 180º iPhone panorama of a small alpine lake in Utah's High Uintas.|
|Top middle "Compass" button lets|
Sky Guide use your current location
It was currently about two hours before sunset. Using Sky Guide on my iPhone, I touched the "Compass" button at the top of the screen. This allows SG to use my current position and show me what the sky looks like right now, both above and below the horizon. By swiping up, with my finger, from the bottom edge, I am able to get SG to reveal the Time Center at the bottom of the screen.
Now the magic begins. With the Time Center activated at the bottom of the screen, I touch the fast forward button (double arrows on the right). Your first tap give you real time, "1x" forward speed. A second tap gives you "10x" forward speed. A third tap equals "100x". A fourth tap = 1000x, and so on. Now, the sky is really moving in a time-lapse, cinematic fashion! At about 11:15 PM I tap the pause button to review the sky...
|Fast forwarding (@ 1000x) until the Milky Way reaches a near vertical position, I tap the pause button|
and check the MW's position and date in the future: Just left of the SW (225º) heading and
2:44 AM in the future (early tomorrow morning).
Planning for other Locations: Like Stellarium, Sky Guide can also help you see into the future at locations that are not your "Current Location". Go to Menu > Location and choose the "Manual Location" option. You will be presented with a list of countries in the world. Touch the country you want, and you'll get a list of major cities in that country. Choose the city closest to the location you want to plan around, and the coordinates will appear right under the "Manual Location" heading.
Limitations: I only wish Sky Guide would also allow you to put in your own coordinates, rather than choosing a city closest to your destination. In the example to the right, I had to choose "Salt Lake City, UT", which was about 60 miles from my alpine lake location —other smaller cities and town that were much closer, were not on SG's list. (Keep in mind that being 60 miles off from the actual location will only affect your positioning of the Milky Way by about two or three degrees and less than five or six minutes off in timing.)
Other Time Control Adjustments: If your next NightScape photo shoot is months into the future, you can also use the Menu > Time & Date and choose the "Select Time" feature. This will get you closer to your date, and then you can use the Time Center fast forward controls. I've also used this feature to go back in time to help me identify a star or constellation in one of my photos.
Conclusion: Pros: For only $1.99, Sky Guide is a steal! It is truly elegant, and easy to use. The "Time Controls" place this app's usefulness way beyond other products for the astro-landscape photographer (and for photographers, no other product, with their "simulated" stars will do once you've used SG)! Cons: Although the ability to manually set your location via a country and city list is a great option, having the ability to manually set your own coordinates would have been even better. And, having the ability to drop in a grid of longitude and latitude would increase location accuracy, but I understand the limitations of a small screen, so I'll not complain too loudly on this one.
Sky Guide is available through the iTunes Store for $1.99. It has a 5 out of 5 star rating on both the current (3.2) version (1200+ ratings) and all previous versions (8600+ ratings).
Android Version? Sky Guide is not currently available as an Android app. The closest thing I can suggest is SkySafari ($2.99).
Royce's 2014 Workshop, Lecture & Video Conference Schedule: NightScapeEvents.com