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Apps of the Week: To infinity, and beyond!

By Brandon Griggs, CNN
The Hubble Space Telescope snapped this image of the Butterfly Nebula. Here's a look at three space-themed phone apps.
The Hubble Space Telescope snapped this image of the Butterfly Nebula. Here's a look at three space-themed phone apps.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Our Apps of the Week feature looks at three space-related applications for smartphones
  • NASA's official app can track the positions of space shuttles and other orbiting spacecraft
  • Astronomy Picture of the Day serves up gorgeous images of stars, planets and galaxies
  • Pocket Universe uses the iPhone's compass to offer a virtual guide to the night sky

(CNN) -- Space Shuttle Atlantis has blasted off, on its way to the international space station. The annual Leonid meteor shower peaked Tuesday. And NASA just found water on the moon.

The past week in space news has been buzzier than, well, Buzz Aldrin.

To keep up with it all, here are three smartphone applications aimed at your inner space geek. Because you never know when you might get the urge to track the progress of a spacecraft or just look at pretty pictures of stars and planets.

NASA app for iPhone (free). The official app of the U.S. space agency. An orbit-tracker tracks the positions of the space station and other spacecraft orbiting Earth. The app also offers users access to NASA's vast image library and integrates its Twitter feeds.

Pros: A quick finger tap on "Images" turned up galleries of more than 6,000 space-related photos on a variety of subjects, from rocket launches to the reddish landscape of Mars.

Cons: More than 24 hours after Atlantis's Monday launch, the app's "Missions" page offered little new info. Much better was the "Updates" page -- basically a Twitter stream -- that revealed some timelier tidbits, including the news that a post-launch survey of Atlantis' heat shield appeared to have found no problems.

Astronomy Picture of the Day (iPhone, free). This simple app, developed from a popular Web site in partnership with NASA, is pretty much what it sounds like. Every day, a gorgeous new photo of a galaxy or other astronomical feature shows up on your phone's screen. You can scroll through previous days' pictures or leap way back in time to a specific day -- your birthday, maybe? -- through 1995, when the site launched.

Pros: You can use the iPhone's pinch-and-drag feature to zoom in on images.

Cons: Many of these spectacular pictures beg to be seen on a screen bigger than 3.5 inches across.

Pocket Universe: Virtual Sky Astronomy (iPhone, $2.99). Ideal for on-the-go backyard astronomers, this app uses the iPhone's GPS capability to give you a guide to each night's sky as seen from your location. You get information on the moon's phase, which objects are visible with the naked eye (Jupiter, usually) and where to look for them, astronomy news and even a quiz.

Pros: Pocket Universe presents you with a virtual map of your area's night sky. Using the iPhone's compass feature, you can move the phone around and its view of the stars will match what you see. The virtual map also displays

Cons: You occasionally might get a "compass interference" error message that indicates your phone is confused about where it's pointed. Waving the phone in a figure-eight motion, as instructed on the message, appears to fix the problem.