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Daily iPhone App: SkySafari

SkySafari from Southern Stars is an app for the astronomy enthusiast with an iPhone. It's the perfect companion for a new telescope owner, who can use the app to help locate celestial bodies in the sky, or the casual observer who wants to know the name of that bright star cluster overhead. It's also useful for the seasoned astronomer who wants a pocket reference that's chock full of information.

The basic app (US$2.99) displays over 120,000 stars and has images of all the major planets and their moons. It also includes information on well-known asteroids and comets. SkySafari lets you look up details on each heavenly object including its catalog number and its coordinates in the sky. The app also explains the history and mythology behind each celestial object, so you can learn about the object as well as find it in the sky.

If you have an iOS device with a compass or gyroscope, you can point the app at the sky and use an augmented reality view to locate stars and planets. It even includes a night mode which preserves your dark-adjusted vision when you're out stargazing at night.

One of the best features is "Tonight's Best," which lists the best celestial objects to observe that night. The app generates this list based on your location and the local date and time. The app also has SkyWeek, a list of notable astronomical events pulled from Sky and Telescope Magazine's popular weekly column. Both Tonight's Best and SkyWeek are fantastic places to start if you're new to astronomy and don't want to miss an important event.

SkySafari is also available in a Plus ($14.99) and Pro ($59.99) version which includes information on millions of stars, deep sky objects and every comet or asteroid ever observed. If you have a motorized GoTo mount, the Plus and Pro versions also let you control your telescope using the iPhone app.

SkySafari is similar to Star Walk, another iPad and iPhone-based astronomy app. Both apps give you an augmented reality view of the sky and have information on the objects that you see. SkySafari, though, has additional features like SkyWeek that'll appeal more to the serious hobbyist than the casual observer. The depth of the information available and the option to control your telescope make SkySafari one of the leading astronomical apps available for iOS.

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