Mobile apps for exploring the known universe

Nov 19, 2014
Tech

To say that human beings have only explored a speck of the observable universe is an understatement of cosmic proportions. Thankfully, we now have new tools available on our tablets and smartphones to explore planets, stars, galaxies, space stations and space environments.

To say that human beings have only explored a speck of the observable universe is an understatement of cosmic proportions. Thankfully, we now have new tools available on our tablets and smartphones to explore planets, stars, galaxies, space stations and space environments. With these five apps, there is no need to buy an expensive telescope!

Rocket Science 101 ( iOS Android, Free)

Assemble the individual parts, accompanied by text descriptions, of six different rockets with NASA’s Rocket Science 101. Once the timer counts down the complete rocket launches into space, showing the altitude and time for the steps along the way. From the main menu, select from three levels of difficulty: Have Fun, Challenge Yourself, or Rocket Scientist. Students can watch YouTube videos of  real life rocket launches, like the Kepler Spacecraft or the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX).

Best ISS Interactive Edutainment 3D (iOS Android, Free)

Last week an astronaut installed a 3D printer (courtesy of Made in Space) on The International Space Station, enabling astronauts to print replacement parts and supplies. For the rest of us earth-locked humans, you can take an interactive 3D tour of the ISS with the ISS Space Station app. The interactive model lets students zoom and tap on the station, displaying the names and descriptions of its key components. They can then swipe through a photo gallery, watch videos, and experience a simulation from the perspective of an astronaut! It is like an interactive version of the 2013 science fiction film Gravity, without ubiquitous space debris and Sandra Bullock talking to herself.

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Amazing Space Journey – 3D Solar System (iOS Android, Free)

Amazing Space Journey presents our Solar System in minimalist detail. The sun and planets are represented by the row of dots at the bottom of the screen, and tapping the information button displays distance, orbital period, radius, and rotational period of each. A great pick for middle schoolers and up, there are small buttons on the left-hand side for controlling the selected planet’s rotational and orbital speeds of its moon(s).

kibo360° (iOS Android, Free)

The kibo360° app is our second app focusing on ISS simulation. Aki Hoshide, a Japan Aerospace Exploration Astronaut (JAXA), welcomes visitors in Mission Mode and launches a step-by-step introduction to the interior of the space station. Students can share 3D images of Earth via Facebook or save to their camera rolls. Free Mode uses the device’s gyroscope so students can explore the interior on their own by literally walking around. Unlike the ISS Space Station app, kibo360° boasts simulated space debris, and uses can toggle between English and Japanese.

NASA Space Weather (iOS Android, Free)

NASA’s second entry on this list provides real-time satellite images of Earth and the sun. Users need to have an understanding of space processes, such as solar storms and magnetic fields, to get the most out of this free app. NASA Space Weather includes over 200 data products used in analysing space weather and while it doesn’t feature polished special effects, it will pique the curiosity of students who want to develop their comprehension of space-based sciences.

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Stephen Danos

Stephen Danos is the Associate Editor for appoLearning.com, AndroidApps.com, and Appolicious. He has contributed to articles published on TechCrunchThe Chicago Sun TimesThe Chicago Tribune, and elsewhere.

He received his BA in English from the University of Iowa and MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago. He is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Playhouse State (H_NGM_N Books, 2012) and Gravitational (The New Megaphone, forthcoming).

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