There’s an App For That
A few years ago I got an interesting e-mail from a fellow who was expanding his astronomy app for iOS devices and wanted me to work on a set of narrated star tours to play as part of the app. We chatted back and forth about the extent of the project, and eventually I found myself writing 31 short scripts for the tours. The app is called Starmap, and I’ve really had a lot of fun working on the project. So much so that I want to share some thoughts about it here.
Here it is, a couple of years later, and there’s a new version available, called Starmap 2. And, now I’m working with the developer again to get the word out about this next-generation version. It works on iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and soon will be available on Apple TV, which should be pretty cool.
As an app user myself, I’m always interested in new “toys” for the devices. In particular, I’ve looked at a lot of computer programs and apps that give you star charts and other goodies to help you learn the sky. I have a bunch of them on my iPhone and iPad, just so I can see “whats out there.” They seem to come in a wide range of prices, from free to overpriced. And, the quality range is pretty wide, too. There are good free and paid apps, and there are bad ones. Some of the free apps are markedly better than some of the pay ones, although there are some very nice paid apps that are well worth the money.
Starmap 2 is one of the nicest I’ve seen, if I do say so myself! It’s pretty in its design, and easy to use. And, the good news: it’s a free download. Just head over to Star-map.fr and click on the App Store link to get started. It comes with a number of useful features in the free version, which is designed to give the user just what is needed for stargazing while using a device outdoors. There are stars out to magnitude 10, all the planets, constellation outlines, one star tour plus an animated tutorial. You can set your location quickly and be outside stargazing just a few minutes after you download and install the app. Want to know what that bright star is overhead? The chart will tell. A quick tap on the star in the chart brings up a little data box that gives you more information. It doesn’t get easier than that, which is why I like Starmap 2. (And, I’d say that even if I wasn’t working on it!)
Expanding the Universe of Starmap 2
I’ve noticed a marked trend toward free apps for all kinds of devices, with in-app purchases enabled. As long as the app is fairly well-featured, I don’t mind that I might have to pay something to download an expansion or something like that. Starmap 2 has in-app purchases that are designed to let the user customize the experience. For example, once you’re comfortable stargazing, you might decide you want more databases. There’s a download area that lets you update the app to a version that as additional databases for deep-sky objects, comets, asteroids, and satellites. The full update is $14.99 and it’s well worth it. I’ve seen more expensive competitor apps out there with fewer features. You can also a purchase all the animated star tours, or a telescope controller that works with most major computerized scopes.
Share Your Thoughts
I’ve often thought about who uses these apps. In my mind’s eye, I see a family out there doing some stargazing with Starmap in chart mode, checking out the stars and planets. Or, maybe a teacher, using it to acquaint him or herself with the sky before teaching an astronomy unit in the classroom. Certainly I’ve run across colleagues in the planetarium community who use this app for a variety of reasons, and I know of many amateur observers who have the upgraded versions as one of their essential stargazing tools. I talk to some of them on the Starmap Facebook page (you’re welcome to come visit!). If you’re a Starmap user, I’d love to hear from you about how you use it. I’m getting ready to write a few lessons and curriculum outlines for teachers who want an easy intro to the stars for their students, and all the feedback you can send via the Facebook page will be gratefully accepted. Or, if you like, write to me at carolyn.petersen at star-map dot fr and share your thoughts there.