The night sky holds a fascination for many people, and what better way to learn about the cosmos and planets than with an application on your Mac. Zoom around the solar system and read all about our celestial neighbours, and then venture further afield to experience the structure of the galaxy. The Mac App Store has a great selection of diverse astronomy-based apps at reasonable prices, many of them have superb 3D models of the planets and contain an astounding wealth of educational and interesting information.
This article explores 10 of the best astronomy apps for the Mac.
Cosmographia is a realistic solar system simulation that lets you view planets and asteroids in glorious 3D. There are detailed planetary models with lots of details, and you can view any of the hundreds of thousands of asteroids orbiting the sun. One of the nicest features is that you can view past, current and future events, and easily find out when the International Space Station and other objects will be overhead.
Equinox isn’t the cheapest astronomy tool, but besides information about planetary bodies it can also control most telescopes with the added advantage that you can use voice commands. In this sense, it offers something more than most astronomy apps do, and is very accurate in terms of the information offered.
3. Mars Atlas
Mars Atlas is probably the most comprehensive Mars app for the Mac. It’s only concerned with Mars and provides extremely hi-res images of the entire planet’s surface, as well as details of interesting features and locations of the Mars rovers, which are updated at startup. There really isn’t a better Mars application than this, and you can even use pinch and zoom gestures to zoom in closer to the planet’s surface.
4. Moon Atlas
The Moon Atlas app is by the same developers as the aforementioned Mars Atlas, and presents a similar view and application interface. Any of the moon’s features can be investigated by double-clicking on the relevant labels, and you can zoom right out to get a detailed 3D view of the entire moon. Spacecraft that have visited the moon are included, and there’s a complete searchable database of every object. A wonderful way to learn about our closest celestial neighbour.
Saturn is a great application all about the planet Saturn and its moons, with a very cool and futuristic interface straight out of Star Trek. Everything you ever wanted to know about Saturn is available, and it reveals startling facts about the planetary weather such as a bizarre hexagonal storm system that encircles the planet’s north pole. Many of Saturn’s moons are also covered in detail such as Enceladus, Dione, Mimas, and Tethys.
6. SkyORB 3D
SkyORB 3D takes you on a virtual 3D tour of the solar system and deep space, with easy navigation between anything of interest. There is a large catalogue of stars, asteroids and planets, and you can go back or forward in time to see the state of the universe at any point in the last few thousand years. The 3D animations are perhaps the highlight of this fascinating app.
There are actually several versions of SkySafari (plus the iPhone version). This version has a built-in database of 120,000 stars, plus 220 of the best known star clusters, nebulae and galaxies. SkySafari lets you view the night sky from any point on Earth up to one million years into the past or future, and very detailed descriptions of the planets and stars written by professional astronomers. SkySafari is one of the highest rated astronomy apps on the App Store. There’s also a “plus” version priced at £13.99, which has a much larger database (2.5 million stars) as well as WiFi control of your telescope. SkySafari Pro ($49.99) is only available for download from the developer website rather than the App Store, but that version includes 15 million stars!
8. Solar System Planets 3D
Details: Apple website
This app doesn’t include much information about the stars, but its main attraction is that it takes you on a 3D animated flypast of the planets in our solar system. There are a couple of different modes available such as Outer, Surface, Landing Approach and Slingshot, and it’s certainly a fun way to experience the planets.
9. Solar Walk
Solar Walk is an incredibly detailed 3D model of the solar system, with lots of interesting facts about the planets and the sun. The visuals are gorgeous, and it’s deservedly attracted great reviews and ratings. Perhaps the best feature is the ability to view 3D slices of the planets, with information about the inner structure and history of their exploration.
10. The Night Sky
The Night Sky enables you to view the night sky from any point on earth. Just select the desired location and it displays a totally accurate view of the sky from that position. The constellations are annotated so you know what you’re looking at, and there’s also a version available for the iPhone and iPad.
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