The widespread availability of smart devices -- like my Apple iPhone -- has opened a whole new window into the Universe, making it more accessible than ever before.
Using internal compasses, accelerometers and GPS locators our handheld devices know where they are and what direction they are pointing in without the owner having to lift a finger. This revolution in mobile technology has made it so much easier for amateur astronomers to find our way around the night sky.
Of all the applications on the market, a few stand out for me and are ones I use regularly in my work. Here's my top five (paid) iPhone astronomy apps in reverse order:
5. Solar Walk: It's not an application that has any great practical value for astronomers, but from the point of view of educating and inspiring, it does a lot. To be able to fly around the solar system and zoom in or out of planetary systems with glorious high quality graphics, even in 3D (3D glasses not included), has captivated many children and adults alike. Price: $0.99 4. GoSatWatch: As the name suggests, this app is all about watching satellites. It shows a real sky view from where you are of the satellites visible at that moment, including the International Space Station. The view can be switched from 'sky view' to '3D Earth view' as if looking down from space. You can even get a list of all satellite passes now and in the near future. It's all highly configurable, including a night vision mode that switches colors to varying shades of red so not to disturb your eyes' dark adaption. Price: $9.99