Star Walk for iPhone: Perfect for Amateur Astronomers
I took an astronomy class in college a few years ago, and I can honestly say that a full semester buried in textbooks and lab projects did not cause me to enjoy astronomy as much as I did after just a few nights exploring the night sky with the help of Star Walk from developer Vito Technology Inc. This is not an in-depth scientific tool. Rather, it’s catered to the exact type of user that is likely to buy it: People who have glanced up at the sky and wanted to know a little bit more about what’s going on up there. Star Walk helps diminish some of the mystery about constellations, stars, planets, and our position relative to all of these wonders. By helping us get oriented and identify some of what we see, Star Walk quickly grows a deeper appreciation for astronomy and its pursuit. It may not be that useful to professionals, but for people like me, it’s just right.
I recommend waiting till the evening sky has darkened before launching this app for the first time. Get to a dark, quiet place, and then let the app’s subtle background music sweep you up into an experience that is quite similar to what you’ll get in a big, expensive planetarium. The first thing you’ll see after allowing Star Walk to access your location is an interactive, 360 degree image of the night sky. This is where we’ll spend most of our time. Regardless of the time of day, the image will display whatever stars, planets, and constellations you allow it to in the settings. The image can be navigated smoothly by tapping and dragging. Use multi-touch to zoom in and out. A red line represents the horizon, with a tan, dashed line showing the ecliptic (the course of the sun). These will help you get your bearings.
While this homes screen is exciting and interesting on its own, the real action starts once you tip your iPhone up toward the sky. This engages the “Star Spotter,” which will allow you to point your device at any spot in the sky and see an overlay of the name of the stars/constellations your perceiving. It’s remarkably accurate, and never ceases to amaze me.
The above features would be enough to make this app a great one, but tap the menu icon and you’ll be met with a bunch of bonuses. The “picture of the day” tab provides you with some awesome images from space which can be easily shared or saved to your phone. Bookmarks let you save an image of something you find in the sky. Locations will take you to any place in the world and let you see the sky from that point of view . . . Not only can you go anywhere, but the Time feature also lets you travel back in time and see how the stars were aligned on certain days. The people behind Star Walk push this feature pretty hard, but it didn’t strike me as one of the app’s strengths.
If you want to look for something specific, the spotlight icon is a great help. In the Star Spotter mode, arrows will appear on-screen to direct you to whatever star, planet, or constellation you select. Cheesy as it sounds, it truly makes you feel like you’ve found a navigational key to the skies.
My only regret with Star Walk is that I feel like the app could help me make better use of its own features. The Help section is quite brief, leaving us to mostly figure things out on our own. This isn’t too daunting of a challenge, but I fear too many will give up on Star Walk before really seeing what it can do.
As far as educational apps go, I can’t think of one that has been this entertaining or interactive. Star Walk uses images, sound, and guiding tools to help us go just a little deeper into the sky that surrounds us all the time. Don’t expect it to make you an expert on anything, but certainly expect it to act as a wonderful window through which you can view the stars. Vito Technology Inc. has done a great job making a complex app user-friendly and appealing. $2.99 is a laughably low price for what you’ll get from Star Walk. Expect it to show you new, exciting things you didn’t know were out there. It did for me.
Our Score: 4.5/5