If you were one of the first in line to pick up an iPad this month, then you know there were only a handful of decent apps vying for your attention at launch time. One, which caught some attention, was port of the award-winning astronomy app, Star Walk, from the makers of the popular Solar Walk. Where Solar Walk was really just a very pretty, very nice orrery, Star Walk looks beyond our solar system and identifies stars, galaxies, constellations and more on your virtual horizon.
It’s tough to look at Star Walk without comparing it to – what is, for me – the yardstick by which all other astronomy apps should be judged. Last fall, I reviewed the feature-rich, Starmap Pro for the iPhone. Starmap Pro is an app for serious hobbyists with telescopes, lenses, filters and a working knowledge of the universe, whereas Star Walk is an app for someone who wants to stroll out in their backyard or lie down on a blanket in the park at night and be able to locate constellations & planets just for fun. And, by that measure, Star Walk does a very good job.
If you want to know a little more about an object, Star Walk pulls information from Wikipedia (if you’re on a network) to explain our earth and the heavenly bodies. This app really shines as a preface to deeper reading and understanding of our solar system. Star Walk features a time machine (where users can move through both space and time to take part in eclipses and moon landings) a picture of the day, bookmarks for observations and the previously mentioned Wikipedia links. Star Walk shows 88 constellations, 32 meteor showers, 8 planets (and one dwarf planet), the one star in our solar system, all 110 Messier objects and all 9,110 stars of the HR catalog.
Probably the best feature of Star Walk is its Star Spotter function that allows you to hold your iPad up to the sky and, as you rotate, your iPad’s screen will rotate with you, identifying the major constellations you see in the night sky. I tried it last night and it works pretty well. As you turn, the iPad’s internal compass tracks your position and the sky on the screen rotates with you.
The Star Walk is, along with Distant Suns and GoSkyWatch, the first astronomy apps for the iPad. It’s priced well too – where some iPad apps are in $10-20 range, Star Walk slots in very nicely at five bucks.
Wired: Star Spotter is simple to use to find & identify sky objects. Sky Live makes important information both accessible and attractive. Star Walk is eye candy and pretty affordable compared to other iPad apps.
Tired: Not incredibly deep, lacks full feature set of some of the better astronomy apps for the iPhone (and likely to come for the iPad). Some features don’t work without a network.
The Star Walk App for iPad is available for $4.99 from the App Store.