September 23, 2018

Review: Cosmic Watch

Cosmic Watch screenshot.

To understand the motions of the sky is to understand our place in the Universe. We recently came across a neat new App available for Apple and Google Play named Cosmic Watch, ($4.99 US) which simulates the sky view from a unique perspective.

The App: Cosmic Watch allows you to toggle between the topocentric versus geocentric view, showing the planets, Sun, Moon and constellations in time and space. You can overlay constellations along with the planes of the galaxy, ecliptic and the celestial equator. You can toggle between the astronomical constellation overlay view, astrological zodiac view, and solar system yearly calendar view.

Astrology vs Astronomy

Yup. We said astrology. Cosmic Watch uses the older traditional “12 Houses” of the zodiac approach, not taking into account precession. The modern astronomical constellations (incorporating precession) are included on the astronomical view, a nice touch. There’s no “interpretive astrology” (i.e. “today’s a good day for starting to learn to play the bongos,” etc) just a simple true sky positioning of celestial objects. The astronomical view does, though, list constellations such as “Scorpius” by their astrological names (Scorpio)… hey, modern astronomy shares its hoary roots with the arcane practice of astrology; I meet up with the astrologically-minded at star parties all the time, still curious about the reality of the Universe, not a bad thing

On the “outside in” perspective: Cosmic Watch utilizes a unique view: you’re outside the cosmic sphere, looking down at the Earth in the center. Of course, this is an imaginary apparent view, but handy when you’re trying to find things in the sky. This is also the sort of view that was common on early medieval armillary spheres, and you can see this “outside in” view on early star charts.

Screen capture of the April 8th, 2024 total solar eclipse using Cosmic Watch.

Cosmic Watch may be of limited use in the field, but it is a useful teaching tool and planner.

As a cosmic cartographer and chronicler of all things celestial, we found one feature immediately useful: the Cosmic Watch App allows you to see when the Sun, Moon, constellations and planets reach the zenith, and over what geographic location this occurs. This takes the guess work out of, say, finding the optimal position of a meteor shower over the Earth, something difficult to do with other planetarium programs with their standard “inside looking out” perspective.

Check out Cosmic Watch, for a sky view that’s out of this world.