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by Tom Trusock 09/02/10 | Email Author

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iAstronomy 1.0
September 2, 2010
Tom Trusock

Several times a year, Im usually lucky enough to be asked to present at a major star party. Typically (but not always) the subject is gear: Whats hot this year? One of the topics thats long garnered the most interest is one that we rarely see covered here on CN and yet oddly enough is almost one of the most affordable and interesting.

Im talking about those tools that:

  • Make your observing more interesting
  • Help you plan your time more efficiently
  • Allow you to constantly check in on whats going on in the universe around you
  • Keep you up to date with various astro happenings and doings
  • And blow off wor Er divert yourself from the everyday drudgery that you may find yourself in.

Im talking, of course, about astronomy applications for mobile computing.

Im not only an astro gearhead Im a tech gearhead so I have more useless gadgets floating around my house than any of three local museums I could name (ok, ok, I live in a small area, but you get the point). Over the past year I finally decided to break down and pay the Apple tax. While Ive got some gripes to pick with their equipment most of it admittedly is minor. And honestly I can see why they cripple some things like they do but others like their Bluetooth stack on the iPod touch. Come on here why in the world did they make you wait till IOS 4.1 for AVRCP support? Anyway, all that aside IOS has something major going for it the App Store. So, I bought my way in.

Once you get there, youll find a bewildering array of astronomy oriented applications, but picking heck sometimes even finding the right ones can be a bear. So with that in mind, I figured this would be the perfect topic for a new series of articles.

This time around, Ill be covering a few of the simpler but must have freeware/adware applications. Down the road Ill be devoting entire articles to certain programs (Think Starmap Pro and Distant Suns) but thats later, so hold on to your hats. Right now, well start with three of my favorite freebies.

Moon Globe
Compatible with Iphone, Ipod Touch and Ipad (Moon Globe HD Available for .99)
Requires IOS 2.0 or later

This is an amazing piece of software that uses high resolution Clementine images to display the moon at any time or date of your choosing with real time shading and illumination, globe mode and telescope mode (although telescope mode seems like just a simple way to quickly center and zoom on a chosen target).

Date and time can be changed, and even put in motion at varying speeds. As youd expect, the moon can be spun and rotated all with simple finger gestures.

There are four different selections for labeling of landmarks Distance to visible pole and sub-earth point, Terrain (which also shows space craft landing sites) and a dedicated spacecraft database that helps them stand out from amongst the 1800+ figures viewable in Terrain mode. The final mode simply turns off all labeling and lets you play with your own personal version of Luna.

The views can be reversed and inverted to match your telescope, and shading may be turned off if you want access to the entire lunar map at any given time. A terrain features database is accessible from the options menu and allows you to quickly narrow your specific target down. It also gives basic information about the feature selected. Once youve switched to globe view, youre also presented with a link to a web search, a wikipedia article or both.

There is no night mode, but as this is designed for lunar viewing you really dont need one. This app is fun and educational at both your telescope and easy chair. Best of all, the price cant be beat.

Also of note by the same author, Michael Howard is Mars Globe. Ill be taking a look at that one in another column.


Free (But with ads in app purchase to remove ads .99)
5.6 MB
Compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad
Requires IOS 3.1.3 or later

Hanno Reins Exoplanet is a frequently (daily?) updated database (from and with push notification of discovered extrasolar planets. If youre remotely curious about what theyre finding around other stars, this is one to have on your springboard.

For the main content of the app you select the item of interest and drill down to a more content specific screen. Most often used will be the planetary database. The app presents you with a graphical indication of how the planet was discovered (transit or wobble), an (expandable) star chart showing where the planet in question is located, Orbital overlays comparing the exoplanets size and orbits to solar system objects,a nd a host of other information.

The latest version also shows the position of all exoplanets with respect to the galactic coordinate system.

For the frequency of updates alone this is a must have app.


Galaxy Zoo
1.2 MB
Compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad
Requires IOS 3.1.3 or later

Like faint fuzzies? Well, theres a project out there you should know about (and Im sure most of you already do) Galaxy Zoo. Its a distributed analysis project to enlist folks to help classify galaxies. And its available on your iDevice. If youve used the web app, there are some differences and limitations but thats to be somewhat expected still, I do wish they would add the ability to set particular images to your favorites so you can view them at a later time.

The concept if youre unfamiliar with it is simple. Through a series of simple questions, the end user assists professional astronomers in classifying distant galaxies. The app can be used offline you simply download a set of galaxies to the device and youre good to go. Once youre connected again that data is uploaded back to their servers.

This app allows you to view galaxies that hardly anyone has seen before, AS well as actually make a scientific contribution. How cool is that? Its simple and fun. Yeah, Im a geek but Ill tell you what. I teach high school astronomy, and one of the requirements has been to classify 300 galaxies on galaxy zoo 90% of my class massively exceeds that. This is an amazingly addictive task, and its just been moved into your pocket.

Creating a galaxy zoo account, and logging in will allow your galaxies to count towards your overall total but even thats not necessary.

If youre completely new to this, Id recommend starting with How To Take Part at the Galaxy Zoo website but the rest of us can dive right in.

What are you waiting for? For me, the hardest part about using this app is wrestling my iPod away from my 9 year old.


Thats it for this one, but there are lots more to come. Itd be great if you used the forum comments to share your tips and tricks with these particular programs, as well as kicking in with your own favorite apps. If you have one you think Id really like to look at, Id appreciate it if you drop me a line: or PM me in the forums.

Clear Skies!

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