Here's how to study the sky in real-time using your smartphone as a telescope.
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From allowing you to see loved ones across the globe to pinpointing an alternate route through bumper-to-bumper traffic, your smartphone is the ultimate digital Swiss army knife. Within the time it takes to tap or swipe your screen, you can instantly be transported, entertained, and informed on a variety of subjects. And if you happen to be a fan of learning more about the night sky and all of its wonders—from stars to rare game-changing lunar events—there are several apps for that.

Stargazing apps can not only help you identify constellations, stars, and planets in real time, they can also alert you of upcoming astronomy events, whether its a lunar eclipse or a meteor shower. Here are a few of our favorite free and paid options to download, plus tips and tricks for getting the most out of each app.

nasa app
Credit: itunes.com

1 NASA App

If you're an astronomy lover who's looking for up-to-date insight from top experts, want to explore the solar system and also pull from a library of more than 18,000 images and videos on demand, get news and features, listen to podcasts and Third Rock Radio, and watch live NASA TV, then the NASA app is for you.

Tips and tricks: Set up notifications for upcoming sighting opportunities (visible passes for the International Space Station), and use the Sky View feature to pinpoint your favorite stars or planets.

Available for free on both iOS or Android devices.

sky guide app
Credit: itunes.com

2 Sky Guide

If you're interested in a beautiful, eye-catching interface that will compel you to take an Instagram-worthy screenshot of your zodiac sign's constellation, check out Sky Guide. Its easy, user-friendly AR (augmented reality) mode allows you to hold your phone up to the sky, and it'll automatically superimpose the names and outlines of stars, constellations, planets, and satellites that are in your current view. You'll be able to quickly decipher that the bright "star" you're looking at is actually Jupiter and see that it's currently hanging out in the constellation of Aquarius, the Water Bearer.

Users love the beauty of the app as well as its sounds, music, ease of use, and accuracy.

Tips and tricks: Check the calendar feature to find out what lunar and other planetary events are upcoming, as well as "Tonight's Best," the planets, stars, and constellations that are within view on a given night. For instance, you might find that Mercury is visible until 7:10 p.m. and the Big Dipper until 11:02 p.m.

Available on iOS devices; basic version is free and offers in-app purchases.

skysafari app
Credit: itunes.com

3 SkySafari

Featuring AR mode and voice activation, SkySafari is beloved by astronomy fans who wish they were time travelers. Not only can you use it to identify today's planets, stars, satellites, and constellations but it'll allow you to view what the sky might have looked like in the past and what it might look like the future. You can also revisit past events like eclipses and meteor showers, all while gathering history, mythology, and scientific facts.

Tips and tricks: The latest version allows you to pull your settings into multiple devices as well as on the app's accompanying website LiveSky.com. And if you're a fan of talking versus typing or swiping, use the app's basic voice control to command it to do something like "select Jupiter" or "center on Polaris."

Available on iOS devices for $2.99 and Android devices for free with in-app purchases.

solar walk app
Credit: itunes.com

4 Solar Walk

If you're taking in a view of a blanket of stars with little ones, consider this app, which offers a model of the solar system that is as educational as it is eye-catching. The app allows you to see planets close-up and get the details on their trajectories, composition, surface temperature, and a range of other facts that are sure to impress any kid's science teacher. And at the National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA), it was a Gold winner in the Educational Tools for Parents and Children category.

Tips and tricks: Use the "Time Machine" feature to plug in any date of your choosing, and travel to see what the universe looked like in the past—or what it'll look like in the future. Or zero in on a particular celestial body—planets, dwarfs, comets, asteroids—and explore their terrain as well as the view of the sky from its surface.

Available on iOS devices for $4.99 and Android devices for free.

sky map app for android
Credit: play.google.com

5 Sky Map

This official Google app, which started out as a project on Google and then became open source, is a quick, free, user-friendly way to identify the stars, planets, or constellations you're viewing in real time. The app uses GPS and compass data to label the celestial bodies above you. Users love it for its straightforward interface and accuracy.

Tips and tricks: Use the search feature to look up any planet, star, or other feature in the sky you'd like to pinpoint. For example, if you type in "Mars," it'll help you find its precise location.

Available on Android devices for free.

star tracker
Credit: itunes.com

6 Star Tracker

If checking out as many features in the sky as possible is your wish, this app does the trick. It features a jaw-dropping wealth of features in the sky, including 88 constellations, more than 8,000 and deep-sky objects plus the sun, moon, and planets. There's also a search feature that users enjoy for locating whichever star, planet, or constellation they're hoping to spy.

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Tips and tricks: Use the app's graphics feature to check out beautiful illustrations of the 12 zodiac signs and deep-sky objects. And the paid, "pro" version comes ad-free with even more deep-sky objects to check out.

Available on both iOS and Android devices for free.