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Solar System for iPad

February 12th, 2011
Visually stunning interactive book with lots of information on our sol

This visually stunning interactive book contains hundreds of beautiful images, and gives you an appreciation of the wonder and beauty of our solar system. Touch Press made a splash back in April with their interactive book The Elements, which I reviewed for MacNN. Their newest release is the Solar System for iPad, which is an exploration of our local neighborhood of space.

This visually stunning interactive book contains hundreds of beautiful images, and gives you an appreciation of the wonder and beauty of our solar system. Solar System for iPad contains entries on all of the well-known planets and moons and the lesser known ones as well. It has entries for Eris, Makemake and Haumea, (dwarf planets in the Kuiper belt), the Oort Cloud, and some moons of Saturn and Neptune that are new to me - with pictures of all of them. The author, Marcus Chown, claims that this book cost the better part of a trillion dollars to create. He does point out that NASA spent most of this money to send instruments and astronauts out into space to collect the images and data.

Inside the Solar System

The first time you launch Solar System, it plays a song while showing you a medley of images from all over the system. After the introduction, and on subsequent launches, you are taken to the home page, where you can jump to a particular planet or moon, or step through them one at a time.

Home Page

Solar System for iPad is all about interaction, just like The Elements for iPad. The pictures of each planet or moon are really composites, and can be moved, shrunk, grown, and turned around to see the backside. The text also can be resized; though I'm not quite sure about this utility.

Swipe Photos To Rotate

When you double-tap on most, but not all, of the images it puts the image on the screen by itself, which makes it easy to manipulate and view without distraction. A few of the images, shades of The Elements, have two sets of images, and can be viewed with 3-D glasses for a more in depth look. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any visual cue for which images could be shown on their own page or viewed in 3-D.

Full Screen Image – From Touch Press

Each page has a navigation footer. In the lower left, there are four buttons: Home, Back, Next, and Previous. There is a set of small images, one per astronomical body that you can tap to go directly to a page. Also, in a whimsical touch, there is a spaceship that acts like a thumb in a scroll bar underneath the images.

Navigation Footer with Spaceship

Each planet and moon also has a gallery of static images. You can flick through them like a slide show. The images in each gallery have a small shaded card-like icon in the lower left corner with a description of the picture. When you tap on the small ”i“ icon in the card, it flips over to tell you the source of the picture. For example, in the image below, the source information is: “Apollo 11 70mm Hasselblad color frame number AS11-40-5297. (NASA/LPI)”

Lunar Module Photo

Each planet also has a section just called Data, which gives you a page or two of numerical information about the planet. It also has a link to Wolfram Research’s search engine to find out more about the planet. Obviously, you need an Internet connection for this feature and you can use either 3G or Wi-Fi.

The Solar System has a built in orrery, which lets you watch all the planets and moons move through time while keeping one in the center. This gave me a real appreciation for just how slowly things move in the outer system. I had to speed things up to 5 years per second to get an appreciable amount of movement for Neptune and Pluto.

Orrery In Action

Similar to The Elements, Solar System must be used with the iPad in landscape mode. If you rotate your iPad to a portrait orientation, Solar System will not adapt; you will see the text and images sideways. Moving from page to page requires you to tap the Next and Previous buttons in the lower right corner of the screen; you cannot flick to change pages, except in the galleries.

The Solar System is a large application, weighing in at 842 MB. That is more than 5% of the space on a 16 GB iPad. If you like astronomy, or are curious about the system in which we live, this app will not disappoint you. It is not inexpensive though, it costs $13.99 and you can only purchase it from the Apple iTunes store. A pair of 3-D glasses for viewing the images is available $4.95 plus shipping from Touch Press.

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor
-Beautiful imagery.

-Full of useful information, well organized.

-Can change viewpoint, rotate, pinch and zoom almost all images.

-Large application.

-Landscape mode only.

-Missing 3-D cues on images.