Cosmic Watch Puts The Universe At Your Fingertips

Over the years, I’ve reviewed a number of apps that are designed to assist both amateur astronomers and science buffs. When Cosmic Watch appeared on my radar, I thought I would try out its features and give Apple World Today readers an idea of how this iOS app can both educate and delight you. 

Cosmic Watch is designed and developed by Celestial Dynamics Ltd of Zurich, Switzerland, so it’s no wonder that the app has the precision of a fine mechanical watch. The app, which sells for $4.99, is probably the best-looking astronomy app I’ve used. It differs from many of the others by acting as a 3D planetarium, a timepiece like none you’ve ever used before, and as an augmented reality guide to the night skies. 

Launch Cosmic Watch on your iPhone or iPad, and you’ll be drawn into the app’s beautiful real-time renderings of the universe around you., Tap the controls at the left side of the display, and you have your choice of a time and date display in one of many different formats. For example, I enjoy tapping the Earth icon to show the globe as it is currently illuminated by the sun and oriented against the celestial backdrop. There’s a small red screenshot button on the right side of the display, along with information on your current location. 

Cosmic Watch has a ton of features, so many that it’s a good idea to visit the app’s website and go through the tutorials. While these video tutorials are for an older version of the app, they still provide a quick overview of some of those features. For more details, it’s a better idea to read the user guide for this version of Cosmic Watch. Early on, I decided to download the user guide as a PDF so I could have access to it at all times. There’s also a built-in help system activated by tapping the ? (question mark) button, and with an Internet connection that also provides access to the user guide.

Cosmic Watch’s built-in help mode provides hints and tips with a tap on the orange outlined objects

Cosmic Watch’s built-in help mode provides hints and tips with a tap on the orange outlined objects

The app can be used in one of three modes: Clock Mode, which turns the app into a really fancy desktop clock; Astronomy Mode, which shows constellations, the horizon, and planet names; and Astrology Mode, for those who enjoy the non-science of astrology. 

My favorite part of Cosmic Watch is playing with the three different View Modes. There’s Sky View, which gives you a real time view of the night sky as seen from your location. It’s very helpful for determining (for example) what that bright “star” in the night sky is, if Mars is visible during the night, and so on. In the screenshot below, you can see that the Moon is right on the horizon - sure enough, a look at TimeandDate.com’s Moonrise, Moonset and Moon Phases chart showed that moonrise was at 1:38 PM.

The Sky View mode in Cosmic Watch showing that the moon is rising in Highlands Ranch, CO

The Sky View mode in Cosmic Watch showing that the moon is rising in Highlands Ranch, CO

If you want to know what time a particular astronomical object will rise or set, it’s possible to “change time” by tapping the clock button in the lower right of the screen, then tap on the fast forward/reverse buttons to quickly pass through time. Settings include 2 minutes per second, 6 minutes per second, 30 minutes per second, 2 hours per second, 6 hours per second, 1 day per second, a week per second, a month per second, 3 months per second, 6 months per second, and a year per second, Want to see what the night sky will look like on a particular day in history? You can change the date and time to see certain events (see screenshot below).

Speeding up time is a way to easily visualize the paths of the planets. Here the clock is set at 6 minutes per second, but it can be sped up to 1 year per second.

Speeding up time is a way to easily visualize the paths of the planets. Here the clock is set at 6 minutes per second, but it can be sped up to 1 year per second.

Even though Cosmic Watch does not have an Apple Watch companion app, it does provide notifications. I find it helpful to get a “ping” from the Watch every evening to tell me when the sun has set. 

There are many more things you can do with Cosmic Watch, but honestly the best way to find out about them is to purchase the app, familiarize yourself with the functions, and then start playing with it. You’ll find yourself as enthralled as I was with Cosmic Watch.

If there was one item I would like to see in Cosmic Watch it would be a “red light” mode for night use. Several other astronomy apps have this feature, and having a very dim red display helps to retain night vision.

Apple World Today Rating (out of 5 stars): ★★★★★