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Review: the Heavens Above App is here..!

As well as spending long hours staring at misty nebulae and glittering star clusters through their telescopes, many amateur astronomers now also enjoy satellite- and space station-spotting. They use various websites and phone apps to obtain satellite visibility predictions for where they live (or will be, if travelling to a dark sky location, maybe a star camp or public observing night somewhere) and then enjoy watching a satellite drifting serenely across the sky and knowing which one of the thousands it is.

There are some really good Apps available now, all of which provide the user with detailed lists of satellite passes visible to them, and like me you probably already have one or more of them on your phone, or tablet, already. But as good as they are, I have always wished there was an App version of the wonderful and incredibly popular Heavens Above website, which has been the GoTo site for space station pass times and Iridium Flare times for quite a few years now.

Well, good news – there finally is! And not only is it actually *better* than the website, because it has actually shows you where in the sky an Iridium flare will occur, it’s free!

Here’s the useful “Nightly Events” Menu from the App… you can see it tells you when Moonset, Sunset and other events occur. Tapping on each satellite entry brings up a map showing the track of that satellite across the sky.

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Most people though will use the App – like the website – for getting the times of when they can see the International Space Station and Iridium Flares from their location. And the App is just like the website for ISS predictions, it brings up a chart showing the track of the ISS across your sky. The difference is, using your phone or tablet’s GPS, it draws a much more accurate and “personal” chart than the website does…

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(yes, there are ads on the bottom, not a problem, it’s a small price to pay for such an excellent App).

But where this App really comes into its own, I think, is for predicting Iridium Flares. After I downloaded the App from Google Play I noticed that the Iridium Flare charts were marked with a symbol which I assumed showed the *exact* spot in the sky where the flare will burst into life. Hmmm… if that was true, then it would mean you could go out and be looking in the right place at the right time, instead of looking in roughly the right direction. It also meant you could aim your camera at that spot to photograph the flare. Fantastic! Well, fantastic if it worked… I decided to check.

Up I went to the castle one evening last week, ready to watch a flare, as predicted by the App.This is the chart it gave me, draw for Kendal castle…

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And the App told me the flare would be here, beneath Cassiopeia…

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So how accurate was it? Well, I pointed my camera at that part of the sky, and at the precise time predicted a flare appeared in the sky. Click on the image to see for yourself how accurate the App was…

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Yep, bang on! Very impressed with that! 🙂

So, there you go… a fantastic new satellite- and ISS-spotting App is now available for all you skywatchers! You can download it from Google Play if you’re an Android user. iOS? Don’t know, sorry, but just check for “Heavens Above” and if it’s there you’ll find it.

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2 Responses

  1. Nice write up! Waiting for them to bring the app to the iPad and iPhone.

    Now, one slight correction. You wrote this:

    “And not only is it actually *better* than the website, because it has actually shows you where in the sky an Iridium flare will occur, it’s free!”

    Turns out that’s been available on the website for some time–simply click on the name of the satellite and it will open the very type of star chart you showed! It’s really great– and a wonder why other ISS and Iridium apps don’t incorporate as easily and clearly! (Many lack it; others have unlabeled charts or only part of the sky).

  2. I’m not really sure how to use it. should I point the smartphone to the zenith N facing N and do on and find the location?

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