There are a lot of great apps that are being released for the iPad; one in particular is Star Walk.  Star Walk is an interactive astronomy program that uses augmented reality to show you the heavens through your iPad.  If your not familiar with the term augmented reality, Wikipedia defines it as follows:

“Augmented reality (AR) is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated imagery.”

Basically, the iPad gives us a virtual space the represents real space.  This is becoming more common in iPhone apps, and now too with the iPad.

When you first start Star Walk, you are given a main screen that shows you the sunrise and sunset times for Earth, as well as for Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.  In addition when you start Star Walk you are presented with great ambient music.  It kind of reminds me of the soft music that was played in the new Battlestar Galactica TV Series.  Below is a screen shot of the main screen.

Enter Augmented Reality

To leave the main screen you you press the “X” in the lower right hand corner.  You are now taken to the augmented reality screen.  Here you’ll see Stars, Constellations, and Galaxies.  All of them are properly labeled.  As you move your iPad in any direction you are shown the Constellations such as Leo.  Not only does it outline the Constellation, it also displays a watermark image over the Constellation of what it is.  In this case it shows a Lion.

Moreover, you can click on the magnifying glass on the lower left hand corner to bring up a menu for Constellations, Solar System, Messier, and Stars.  They are displayed in list format, you also have a search bar similar to Spotlight to perform a quick search.  Once you find your Constellation, click on the name, and you are instantly taken to it.  From here you can click on the Constellation, and then you can click on the “i” in the top left corner to bring up information on the Constellation.  This information given here is very detailed.

Menu Items

Star Walk give you a list of menu items to further assist you in navigating the Stars.  In the menu items there is a settings button that allows you to turn on and off the following features: Night Mode, Constellations, and Sounds.  In addition you can also control the brightness of the screen.  Another menu item I found to be interesting to use was the Picture of the Day.  Here you are given daily images of various Stars and Planets.  You can click on an image it will display that image, and you can also read information about what you have selected.

Here is a bulleted list of the Menu Items

  • Sky Live
  • Picture of the Day
  • Bookmarks
  • Location
  • Settings
  • Help

Time Machine

This is probably one the features I like the most in Star Walk.  Time Machine allows you to travel either forward or backward in time to see where Planets or Constellations were, or are going to be in relation to where you currently are.  My daughter also enjoyed this feature.  She entered in the day she was born, and she was automatically transported to a new set of stars.  When she wanted to return to the present she simply pressed the word “Now”, and was again instantly transported to the present.  Who would have thought that Time Travel would be possible with the iPad.  All joking aside this is a very valuable tool to see where stars were positioned in relevance to the present.

Room for Improvement

The only thing I found wrong, which may be a bug, or I might not be using it correctly was with Time Machine.  Sometimes, not all the time, when you use Time Machine it will continuously move the Stars.  Even when you hit “Now” to bring you to the present, the Stars are still moving when you are not.  I found if I close Star Walk, and then relaunch it, the movement stops.  Otherwise I couldn’t find anything else wrong with the app.

Overall, I found Star Walk to be very educational, and I would highly recommend this app to anyone.  Both children and adults can gain a wealth of information from using Star Walk.  My daughter told me that she hasn’t learned Astronomy in Science class yet, but she feels like she is in a Science class with this app.  She throughly enjoyed Star Walk, even I learned a few things that I didn’t know.  This is the sign of a good app when your child enjoys it and equates it to learning.

Some more screen shots

Photo Credit: Screen shots are from Star Walk on my iPad