While we’re thinking about the heavens: I would guess just about every iPad user has at least one astronomy app. I have seven. Probably because I see actual stars so rarely here in the city, I can’t get enough.
The first I downloaded when I got my iPad, two years ago now, was Astro, which enables you to zoom in on the earth, moon, and Mars, but is maddening to navigate, as choppy as the Google Maps system that powers it. I did at least learn one thing from using this app: that I don’t have much interest in examining random lunar craters.
Star Walk, on the other hand. Ahhh, Star Walk. There are prettier sky apps for the casual astronomer now — Luminos and Go Sky Watch, and probably others I haven’t discovered — but Star Walk (below) was my entry-point.
Luminos (below) is my current favorite, although I go back and forth.
Using these apps, I can lie in bed and know exactly which constellations are above me, and which are to the north, south, east, and west. I can even view the solar system “from space” (below, in Luminos).
It’s a strange thing to do, I guess — stay indoors with traffic rushing by outside and pretend to gaze at the heavens — but no more strange than growing “forests” in glass jars, which is another thing I do to counteract the asphalt. It comforts me to know what’s happening in the natural world, even though I often feel very distanced from it.
Sometimes, standing out on my terrace with a glass of wine, I’ll see a faint row of stars and the apps can tell me whether it really is Orion’s belt.
And on the rare occasions I actually have the chance to stargaze, up at my sister’s in Western Massachusetts, for instance, or while I was in Oxford, Mississippi, last week, I can switch to night mode (below, in Sky Walk), and roam outdoors, pointing the iPad in the direction of anything I’m not able to identify by sight.
I wish I’d had these tools as a kid, on those muggy Miami nights when I’d sit out on the deck behind my house, sweating, slapping mosquitoes, and trying to make the clusters of glowing pinpricks in the sky map onto the constellations I’d seen in my encyclopedia.
In Star Walk or Luminos, if you’re searching for Aries or Andromeda or Perseus, selecting the constellation from a pop-up list shows you exactly where to to find it. If you want to know what time Saturn or Venus rises, you’re also in luck. And in Star Walk there are magnificent daily photos, like the one at the top of this post, accompanied by detailed descriptions, like the one below.
Of all the apps on my iPad, I always recommend one of these first to new users. You can supplement them with free stuff like NASA and Exoplanet. The universe for less than five bucks.