Often astronomers speak of an appreciation of the clockwork of the solar system, whether it’s the movement of the planets around the Sun or of moons and other objects in their trajectories through our neighborhood. An app called Cosmic Watch is a gorgeous representation of that clockwork for your smart phone or other iOS device.
Cosmic Watch, created by Celestial Dynamics LTD out of Switzerland—where else would you have your watch made?—is billed by the company as “the world’s first 3D interactive astronomical clock.” But they flip the concept upside down; while most astronomy apps have a point of view of looking up from the planet at the sky, Cosmic Watch gives you the view of Earth from out in space, and allows you to see the movement of everything around it.
I took the screenshot at left just as I was starting to write this article (click it to see it bigger). In this basic view, the face of the clock runs around the ecliptic, and the Moon, Sun, and planets are shown in the spots where they’re directly overhead. You can spin this view to look at the lineup from any angle. Change the settings and you can show the outlines of the constellations, or switch between views of the celestial sphere representation or a more open sky.
There are three other main views.
The astronomy view depicts the locations of the planets and constellations and allows you to decide if you’d like to view equatorial coordinates and various rings such as the ecliptic, the celestial equator, or Earth’s equator and tropics.
The astrology view takes a look at how solar system objects are moving through the zodiac.
A solar system view lets you track the orbits of the planets around the Sun. These features are not limited to your current time or place. You can set Cosmic Watch to any time and date and any location on Earth, and you can set it spinning at a quicker pace to enjoy the motions of the cosmos.
Oh, and you can tell time with it, too! In fact, it’s essentially a graphical representation of what “time” is for us: the pace of Earth’s rotation with respect to the Sun.
It’s quite a versatile tool. The Cosmic Watch website points out that you can use it as “a realtime worldclock, time travel machine, an astrolabe, an antikythera mechanism, an orrery, an armillary sphere, or an astral-chart generator.” It has made the “best app” lists of Wired and The New York Times, among others.
My device is an iPhone 6. I imagine that the app would be even more enjoyable on devices with larger screens.