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What is the best Android app for watching space?

I don’t know if Androids dream of electric sheep, but I often catch my mobile staring into space. So, what is best Android app for watching space? Whether you enjoy space watching from the dark skies of Dartmoor, or from the city centre in the middle of the day. Here’s the Dartmoor Sheepskins top 3 space-watching apps.

1. NASA

The NASA app brings you stunning images and video from around the solar system. Find out what NASA scientists and engineers are up to, on a mission-by-mission basis. Learn about the motivation behind nearly 200 projects. One, for example, is seeking an asteroid to land on, in order to grab a boulder. A boulder which NASA will then put in orbit around the moon! Although not immediately obvious, the aim is up-skilling in readiness for a manned mission to Mars.

The brief flash of a bright Perseid meteor streaks across the upper right in this composited series which includes the four minute long tail of a Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the Parker Solar Probe. Credit – NASA (see NASA app)

NASA add several stunningly high resolution images each day, each one poster material. You’ll also get meteorological events as seen from space, the Californian fires have featured in recent days – they are huge. One image shows the mapped magnetic field of the sun constructed by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. One can’t help wondering how these observations will be informed by the just launched mission into the sun.

You could let your child use the NASA app without feeling guilty, just as long as you don’t mind them disturbing you when they find something that blows their mind (which they inevitably will). 

NASA include a flight schedule, sighting opportunities and a little rotatable globe with plus images and information for each relevant project. The simplicity of layout coupled with the depth and spread of content, make this a must have space-app. The shear beauty of the images make this the best Android app for watching space. If you have room in your life (and on your phone) for just one space app – make it this one.

2. ISS Live HD

Watch the earth from space, live from the international space station. The app is clean and easy to use, contains loads of content laid out simply. Watch live in real-time or various augmented videos with stars and streetlights added using a brilliantly composed overlay of high resolution images taken by cosmonauts.

ISS cosmonauts facing the challenges of living in space 

Track the station, see today’s schedule – having given permission for ISS Live HD to use my location I can see that today the ISS will pass overhead five times. It won’t be visible for any of them due to daylight, but it’s nice to know somewhere above me are a bunch of scientists working hard in a tin can hurtling so very very fast around this pale blue dot.

Global (and exceptionally polite) chat with translate function that performs like the familiar Google product. Google have also provided Street View of the interior of the modules of the space station, you can get a sense of how small both the space station and the earth really are.

Navigate your own way around the ISS using Google Street View

3. Heavens-Above

This app is geared towards satellites in the sky and it has some really cool features. Select your satellite and then scroll through the timeline watching its orbit on a couple of globes and a world map. 

Those maps rotate with the satellite as you scroll along the timeline.

Heavens-Above adds predictions of ‘Iridium Flare’ which is the reflection of the sun in some solar panels. It’s an effect that surpasses a simple reflection, and can even look like a stunning ball of coloured light. Sometimes bright enough to see during the day if you know where to look.

… the brief but dramatically bright flashes are predictable night sky events easily seen with the naked eye, even under heavily light-polluted city skies. The flares are caused by sunlight bouncing off Iridium communication satellites, a constellation of 72 probes launched between 1997 and 2002.

National Geographic

You might want to download this free app and give it a go soon. The satellites run by Iridium are being upgraded and will soon stop ‘flaring’. Work is set to be completed by the end of 2018.

Aiming, or even finding, the satellite couldn’t be simpler. Just aim the device at the sky, I found laying down was easiest. Aim the reticule at the satellite on-screen and you will be looking towards it in real life.

Some, but not all satellites are the large cylinders with solar panels for ears (or arms depending on how much sugar you ate as a child). I was intrigued to find a number of Russian rocket bodies and an amateur radio satellite weighing just 29kg.

Heavens-Above isn’t the best Android app for watching space, but it is fascinating to play with. For a limited time it might mean you get to see one of the last Iridium flares ever to be seen in the history of planet Earth. Stick it on your download list and lay down in the garden for an hour.

Spaceship Earth – what is the best Android app for watching space?

The most striking thing about all three apps is the amount of international  involvement in space projects. No country could claim dominance. If the European Space Agency launches a satellite then it’ll be tracked and serviced in part by NASA. Look up into the sky at any time and you will find Indian and Russian equipment. No matter what is said down here upon the earth, on board the International Space Station the only language is of discovery, survival and cooperation.

The list of people who have gone into space includes; Italians, Canadians, French, British, Chinese, Germans, Japanese and of course Russians,  Americans and a dog. The point is, space is a big project and we only get to the next level by working together. I’ll leave you with one last point of interest. Do you know why rockets are launched as near as possible to the equator? Well, the earth rotates at more than a thousand miles an hour eastwards. Launching eastwards therefore from the equator lends the rocket more than 900 miles an hour extra, for free, without adding extra fuel. Go on dive in, download an app and look up at the sky.

Happy space watching, wherever you are!

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