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GLOBAL – For hundreds of thousands of years humankind has gazed up at the night sky, looking at the stars in amazement. But what exactly are we seeing when we cast our eyes upwards? Is that a star, planet, or even a UFO? This week, the BBC in the UK is hosting Stargazing LIVE which will help you to identify the heavenly bodies. But, thanks to some apps available for your phone, it’s easy to take part as well, from anywhere in the world.

In this second series, Professor Brian Cox and comedian Dara O Briain also try to explain some of the unexplained mysteries of the night sky, live on TV. But you can solve a few mysteries of your own using a Nokia smartphone fitted with GPS and a compass to define your position in relation to the stars and planets.

We spoke to space writer Paul Sutherland, who runs his own popular website

“Apps like these turn your smartphone into a planetarium in your pocket with powerful performance that would have seemed science fiction just a few years ago. A casual user can easily find out what is in the night sky at any date and time.”

Paul continues:

“With GPS enabled you only have to hold the phone up to the sky and it will show you what is right in front of you, making it a cinch to identify stars and planets.”

We’ve found a couple of apps that will help you on your stellar quest.

SkyMap, £1.29 – Nokia Lumia 710 and Nokia Lumia 800

Looking at the stars with SkyMap

Star details with SkyMap

When you open this app you’ll need to calibrate the compass on your phone so it knows which direction you’ll be pointing it. The built-in GPS will then be able to find your exact position.

The app turns your phone screen into a viewfinder. Move your handset in any direction, and the sky map on your display move with it. You’ll be presented with all the stars in sight and the constellations they belong to, as well as any planets. If you want some more information about a particular cosmic object, just click on it.

Norbsoft SkyMap, £3.00 – Symbian

Norbsoft SkyMap

With details of nearly 10,000 stars, this app has plenty of details about nebulas, galaxies, planets and stars.

After your GPS locates your position, you can then navigate around the sky map to find your nearest star or planet. Pressing on one of these will open up more details about that particular object.

If you’re into astronomy, download these apps and learn about the night sky right from your own smartphone. The official Stargazing Live hashtag on Twitter is #bbcstargazing.

Once you’ve found that planet or star you’d like to look at in even more detail, what next? You could try taking a photo of the night sky with your phone. Or, you could take it a step further like Michael from TheyCallThisLife and hook up a Nokia N8 to a telescope!

Nokia N8 camera module

First attach your Nokia cameraphone to a piece of card and a pipe:

Nokia N8 mounted

Then on to the eyepiece of an Astro-Physics Starfire 102 telescope:

Nokia N8 and telescope

And then you can film the moon!

The level of detail it captures on the surface of the moon just amazing.

Although this provides some spectacular results, we wouldn’t advise you to do anything that would damage your phone.

Are you going to be skygazing anytime soon? We’d love to hear if you find any ingenious ways to capture the night sky using your smartphone.

Modified Nokia N8 images: TheyCallThisLife
Featured image credit: Luke Peterson