SkySafari is a planetarium app with several advanced features, like the ability to control your telescope.
While it is not the most affordable app for the night sky, it is a great tool for the enthusiast astrophotographer and visual observer.
What Is SkySafari?
In this review, I will focus on SkySafari 6 Plus, as it is available for both Android and iOS mobile devices, as well as Mac OS X computers.
SkySafari is a complete planetarium software you can use to explore the cosmos, plan a photographic or observation session, control your telescope, and much more.
The interface is clean and easy to use, particularly on iPad and other large-screen devices: let’s have a look.
If you haven’t used SkySafari 6 Plus before, here’s a quick list of things you can do with it:
- Hold your device up to find stars, constellations, planets, and more
- Choose between different landscapes
- Work in Alt/Az or Equatorial coordinates
- Simulate the night sky up to 10,000 years in the past or future. Animate meteor showers, conjunctions, eclipses, and other celestial events
- Learn the history, mythology, and science of astronomy. Browse over 1500 object descriptions and astronomical images. Explore NASA space missions. Stay up-to-date with SkyWeek for all major sky events every day
- Simulate the field of view and orientation (equatorial or alt-az) for your different setups
- Control your telescope, log and plan your observations
- Night Vision. Preserve your eyesight after dark
- Orbit Mode. Leave the Earth’s surface behind, and fly through our solar system
- Time Flow. Follow the motion of sky objects as days, months, and years are compressed into a few seconds
- Advanced Search. Find objects using properties other than their name;
- Support for Apple Watch
- Tonight at a Glance: the Sun, Moon, Planets, ISS, and Iridium flares in one handy view
- Notifications when the ISS will pass overhead, when Iridium satellites flare, and more
What Are The Main Features Of SkySafari?
The following are some of the main features of SkySafari 6 Plus:
- SkySafari 6 Plus will (optionally) back up all of your observing data in secure cloud storage and make it easily accessible to multiple devices as well as from our new web interface, LiveSky.com.
- Updated star catalog to use the latest and greatest UCAC5 star catalog.
- Quick access to features like your equipment, observing sites, lists, and observations make it easy and enjoyable to get out, observe, and record your observations.
- A completely new graph tool offering a quick visual representation of an object’s altitude above the horizon. Essential for planning your night’s observations.
- An updated planner tool that lets you create a list of targets for your observing session with filters like object types, specific time ranges, constellations, catalog, and more.
- SkySafari 6 adds basic voice control for a wide range of operations. Say “select Jupiter,” “search for Titan,” “center on Polaris” and SkySafari will do the work for you. Yelling is optional…
- Every astronomy app these days lets you tilt and pan your device to show different parts of the sky, SkySafari offers you the ability to control your telescope that way. “Tilt to slew” is an optional mode allowing you to keep your eye in the eyepiece, and using the accelerometers in your device, gently translate the movements of your hands into smooth telescope motion.
- SkySafari 6 helps you organize and share your observing experiences. With a free signup, you can see and share your observing data from our web portal, LiveSky.com.
How Do I Use SkySafari To Find A Target And Explore The Night Sky?
Whether you like to observe the night sky or do astrophotography, you need to know what targets are visible, in which direction, and at which altitude (the higher in the sky, the better).
There are different ways to explore what you can observe or photograph tonight:
- Tap on the Time icon to go forward in time and have a look around. When you see something interesting, tap on it and then tap on the Select icon to display info about the target and more.
- Activate the compass and point the phone/tablet camera at the sky to see on screen what is in the area of the sky you are aiming at.
- Tap on the Tonight icon to bring on screen the list of planets, the Sun, the Moon, and artificial satellites.
- Tap on the Search icon and choose Tonight’s Best to have a list of visible targets. You can order the list according to many properties: Name, Catalog Number, Visual Magnitude, etc.
Changing the Time and Date is fairly straightforward: first, tap on the Time icon to bring up the adjustment menu.
Then, tap on the object you want to change: the Month, the Day, the Year, the Hour, the Minute, or the Second. You can then increase or decrease the selected object by the specified amount or fast forward/rewind.
The Now button will automatically bring you to today’s current time.
When looking for a target, I like to browse the list of Tonight’s Bests ordered by targets’ altitude so that I can focus on what is high in the sky, away from light pollution and geographic features that could limit their view.
Once you find a target you are interested in, tap on it and with the Select icon you can center it on screen, display related information, and more.
If you want to know more about a target, you can start a very informative Audio Tour (make sure your device is not in silent mode), center the target in the sky on the screen, go in orbit around it (this works best with stars, moons, and planets), use it to create a new observation or add it to the observing list.
With the in-app purchase Galaxy View, you can see the position of the target in relation to our Sun.
You can also look for notable events in the current month by tapping on the Calendar Icon.
What Are SkySafari Pros and Cons?
SkySafari is a great program with a lot to offer:
- A vast catalog of stars, deep sky objects, comets, and satellites
- For each target, a lot of info can be displayed, both technical and “educational,” with an audio tour and the possibility to see the cosmos from orbiting the target
- The Audio Tour function is extremely informative
- Sessions can be created and organized and shared via free LiveSky network and among people using SkySafari
- Create your equipment list and combine the different items to see the resulting field of view
- Control your telescope via wi-fi and it can integrate with the ZWO ASIAIR computer unit
- Planets and deep-sky objects are shown with great detail and quality
- A very complete Help you can access at any moment
- If you have an M1 Apple computer, you can
There is very little I don’t like in SkySafari:
- Not having a basic version that is free for iPhone and iPad users, as offered for Android devices
- Price is somehow steep for an app, particularly the Pro version.
- Nebulae are not always clearly identified as emission or reflection nebulae. A workaround is creating a custom list of, say, the emission nebulae most suitable for your observation and astrophotography.
Is SkySafari Free?
As you may have figured out already, for the most part, SkySafari is not free. Almost all the versions are commercial.
Is SkySafari Available For Desktop And Laptop Computers?
When it comes to classic desktop and laptop computers, SkySafari 6 is only available for Mac OS X.
You can choose one of three versions available on the Mac App Store: SkySafari 6 ($9.99), SkySafari 6 Plus ($29.99), and SkySafari 6 Pro ($59.99).
While the basic SkySafari 6 is basically a classic planetarium to explore the night sky and get info about celestial objects, the more advanced Plus and Pro versions also offer, among the rest, the possibility of controlling a telescope and larger star catalogs.
If you have an iPad and an Apple computer with an M1 chip, you can install and run the mobile version on your computer.
Is SkySafari Available For Android?
Yes, SkySafari is available for Android devices in the classic three versions: normal, Plus, and Pro.
As for Stellarium, another planetarium software, the basic version of SkySafari is free.
Is SkySafari Available For iPhone And iPad?
All three versions of SkySafari 6 are available for iPhone and iPad, but they are all commercial. No free app for us, nor the basic version, now called SkySafari 6 AR 🙁
On the other hand, at the time of this article, iOS-based devices can benefit from the new SkySafari 7 Plus and SkySafari 7 Pro.
SkySafari 7 Plus comes with a redesigned and more modern user interface with respect to SkySafari 6 Plus.
New interface aside, SkySafari 7 Plus comes with the in-app purchases for SkySafari 6 Plus already available.
The first add-on is an Interactive H-R diagram, showing the star type distribution for the portion of the sky you are visualizing.
The second one is the Galaxy View, which shows you the position of a target with respect to our position in the Milky Way.
Is SkySafari Right For You And What Are SkySafari Best Alternatives?
I honestly can’t see a way for SkySafari not being the right application for you, except for cost.
If you are a casual observer, there are cheaper options out there, particularly for iOS, like Sky Guide.
Stellarium is another great app we have recently reviewed, but like SkySafari, the free version is only available for Android.
Telescopius is another web application that allows you to explore the best targets for your location and to simulate the field of view of your setup. But you cannot control your telescope with it.
If you are a night sky enthusiast, you can’t go wrong with SkySafari Plus/Pro.
Despite the somewhat steep price tag, SkySafari 6 Plus/Pro are powerful planetarium apps offering plenty of advanced tools to enjoy, learn, observe and photograph the night sky.
And they offer you all of this at the tip of your finger, thanks to being available for both iOS and Android-based mobile devices.
And if you have an iPhone or iPad, I would suggest you jump straight to the new and improved version: SKySafari 7 Plus/Pro.