Hold Your Phone Up to the Night Sky and This App Will Identify Stars, Planets, and More

Taurus as seen in Sky Guide.
Taurus as seen in Sky Guide. / Fifth Star Labs

If your skygazing skills are limited to spotting the moon and occasionally the Big Dipper, you might benefit from a little expert help. Not everyone can FaceTime an astronomer whenever they feel like looking up—but everyone with an iPhone or iPad can download the Sky Guide app, which may be an even better option.

Sky Guide, created by Fifth Star Labs, is essentially a one-stop shop for all your skygazing questions. The very simplest of these is probably something to the effect of “What am I looking at right now?” Just train your device on your view, and Sky Guide will identify each element in it, from individual stars to constellations to satellites

Hoping to locate a certain star, the International Space Station, or some other specific object? Enter it in the search bar and an arrow will lead you straight to it. While you’re following the arrow to your destination, Sky Guide will point out what you’re passing along the route. It’s a fun way to find out that what you assumed was an especially bright star is actually Jupiter.

The app also tells you what to keep an eye out for in the coming days and months, including meteor showers, eclipses, and planets in opposition—along with informative descriptions and tips for witnessing each event.

Sky Guide uses your device’s compass to orient its field of vision, and it can work without data or Wi-Fi. That said, you may need to manually enter your location in the app if you have Location Services turned off. It’s important to make sure your device’s date and time settings are accurate, too.

Apple users can download the Sky Guide app for free here. It’s currently not available to other smartphone users, but there’s a similar (and similarly highly rated) astronomy app—Star Walk 2—that is. Learn more about it here.