Guest post by Andrew Symes
Just as “go-to” technology simplified the use of telescopes, astronomy apps are revolutionizing the way new and experienced stargazers find their way around the night sky. One of the newest apps is Starmap Media for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. Created by the makers of the Starmap and Starmap PRO planetarium apps, Starmap Media is designed for anyone looking to learn more about the night sky and astronomy in general.
Part planetarium, part astronomy professor, this astronomy app helps users do more than simply locate constellations and planets. Through 10-15 minute multimedia “stories”, the app explains the science behind astronomical objects while helping users pinpoint them in the night sky from their location.
I was able to review the app for two weeks and found it to be a useful “introduction-to-astronomy” tool that should appeal to new stargazers and those interested in learning more about the cosmos.
Your Personal Astronomer
Starmap Media aims to simulate the experience of having an astronomer give you a personalized tour of the night sky. If you want to know what’s currently visible, the app’s The Sky Tonight feature will display the constellations and planets above you based on your location. At the same time, a narrator will walk you through the most prominent constellations and some of the facts behind them.
For cloudy nights or use during the day, the app offers downloadable stories for use in “couch mode” that cover everything from cosmology to the mythology of the constellations. Two stories are included with the app and additional ones can be purchased for 99 cents each. At the time of this review, some 30 stories are available and sample titles include: “A Star’s Destiny”, “Wandering the Summer Sky”, “Measuring the Cosmos”, “The Changing Pole Star”, and “What Happens when Galaxies Collide?”
Ideal for Budding Astronomers
Each Starmap Media story notes whether it is meant for Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced users. Most stories are aimed at the beginner/intermediate groups and it seems that this is the audience who would benefit most from the app. That said, I did learn a couple of new things from the app despite having observed the sky for almost 20 years, so experienced observers may also find some value.
Advanced observers should be aware, though, that The Sky Tonight planetarium is quite basic and does not list objects from the Messier/NGC catalogs, comets, or satellites. This was done intentionally to keep things simple, but astronomers should be aware that this app should not be considered a substitute for more robust planetarium apps on the market.
The information, narration, and illustrations contained in the Starmap Media stories are excellent. Don’t expect fancy computer animation or fast-paced video, though. The app generally uses artistic illustrations or static photos to accompany the narration.
Starmap Media is also easy to use, which should appeal to beginners looking for an app that doesn’t require prior stargazing experience or knowledge of astronomy.
Lastly, the science is sound. Created by experienced astronomers and written by a professional science writer, the information is both accurate and accessible.
The biggest drawback to the app is that it’s limited to the Apple platform and can only be used on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.
Also, while the app is free, just two stories are included, and each additional story must be purchased individually. Stories only cost $0.99 each, so the cost is not prohibitive (you could download all of the stories and still pay less than what you would for a typical astronomy book or DVD) but users need to take the extra step to download one story at a time. An additional option in which users could purchase a bundle of 3 or 5 stories at a slightly discounted price, for example, might be simpler and encourage more use.
A Solid Introduction to the Night Sky
All told, Starmap Media delivers on its promise to help new stargazers find their way around the night sky and learn more about astronomy in the process. You can download it from the Apple App Store or learn more on the Starmap Media website.
Price: Free, with 2 stories included. Additional stories cost $0.99 each.
Size: 57 MB + downloadable stories
Languages: English and French
About the Author
Andrew Symes has been observing the night sky since 1994. Located in Ottawa, Canada, Andrew is passionate about communicating the beauty of the night sky and the adventures of human and robotic spaceflight. Most fond of planetary and solar observing, Andrew can usually be found outside with his 8″ SCT telescope gazing at the Moon or the planets or observing the sun with his Coronado H-alpha solar telescope. For more of Andrew’s writing and photography, read his blog CanadianAstronomy and follow him on Twitter!