If you want to learn more about the night sky then planetarium apps for your desktop, notebook, ipad or smart phone will let you get to grips with the starry heavens quickly.
The original version is a free download for desktops and notebooks. Mobile versions are available at around £2.99. Stellarium gives you a 3D realistic view of the night sky as well as a wealth of detailed information about the objects there. Download it from www.stellarium.org.
A handy GPS-assisted sky map and recognition tool for spotting and identifying constellations, stars, planets and satellites. As with the best star map apps, Sky Guide uses your phone’s sensors and screen to display a map of the sky wherever your phone is pointed at, identifying stars and planets. Price £1.99. Download it from Apple Itunes.
Sky Safari 5 Plus
SkySafari 5 Plus is a good choice for beginners, although it will suit more serious amateurs as well. It shows a beautifully rendered sky and all the stars you’re likely to see in a small telescope, plus numerous galaxies, nebulae, star clusters, comets, asteroids, and satellites. Price $14.99. Download it from Simulation Curriculum.
If you prefer a low tech approach then why not try Dominic Ford’s Planisphere.
A Planisphere is a simple hand-held device which shows a map of the stars visible in the night sky at any particular time. By rotating a wheel, it shows how stars move across the sky through the night, and how different constellations are visible at various times of year. However it will not show you where the planets are because their position is constantly changing against the night sky. For planets you would need one of the apps above.
This Planisphere is designed for use within a few degrees of latitude 55N so it will work fine in Tomintoul and Glenlivet where we are at around 57.3N.
This planisphere kit is provided for the benefit of amateur astronomers by Dominic Ford and is distributed under the GNU General Public License, version 3.