Amateur astronomers have a wealth of modern technology to help them with their craft, including a lot of freely-accessible compendiums of astronomical and planetary knowledge on the internet. We’re in the age of apps these days, however, and you’ll only get so far with free-to-own astronomy apps. If you’re thinking of going premium, this review has been put together to inform you about the benefits and drawbacks of Zima’s Mobile Observatory app.
The cost of £3.49 is rather miniscule when you consider the wealth of planetary and astronomy knowledge contained within. Its GPS-based sky map overlaying the night’s sky on your phone is just the beginning, and this review covers its more impressive features that range from real-time celestial-event information to event-calendar integration, right through to virtual access to information from hundreds of observatories around the world.
Location Setting and Overview
In case you hadn’t guessed it from the description thus far, Mobile Observatory is a serious piece mobile kit. After purchase and install, your first step is to determine your location so that some of the app’s functions can map the night sky according to your position on the earth. You can either choose your location on a map, enter it through text, or simply allow the location services on your phone to set your precise coordinates. Once you’ve done this, you’re ready to dive in to the multi-faceted Mobile Observatory app, whose title is a rather accurate description of the kind of power it allows you to hold in your hands.
The main menu of the app is split into a 3x6 grid, with each square representing a separate and distinct feature. A majority of the stargazers out there will be most interested in the Sky View, Overview Sky, and Live View functions – these are the most interactive and dynamic features of the app. Sky View presents you with fully zoom-able sky map that you can manipulate with your fingers to zoom in and out. Overview Sky gives you a more general glance at the observable sky, whilst Live View utilises the motion/location sensors in your app to allow you to point your device to the heavens and view the sky mapped in this fashion, very similar to the much lighter-featured SkyView Free by Terminal Eleven.
For many, the remaining features of the app will be secondary to those above. These include encyclopaedic levels of detail regarding various features of the universe, including Solar System View, the many objects in the night sky, and more detail about the Sun, Moon, Twilight (dawn, dusk, golden hour etc.), and Galilean Moons. The number of features is quite simply astounding, far beyond what one would even expect from an app that costs £3.49.
Dynamic Sky View Features
The main appeal of the app for most will be the integration of the Sky View features of the app with the extensive database of celestial objects contained within the package. The sky view is simply spectacular, incredible detailed, and you can choose either the zoom-able map, the overview map, and the dynamic live view that maps constellations, planets, and other celestial bodies in the sky. The dynamic view is much more powerful and detailed in its format than in SkyView Free, though, giving you the ability to choose a point in time (past or future) in order to see the arrangement of the sky on any chosen date.
Integration of the Sky View functionality with the app’s astronomy database is also impressive, and superior to standard text/picture/video presentation of data found on sites like Astronomy.com. You can tap on any object to bring up further information about it. You can also navigate to major bodies (the Sun, Moon, Moons of Saturn, or Galilean Moons) through the main menu, use the Objects section, or the app’s search function. This gives you many roads that lead to the same destination: increased knowledge of the observable night’s sky.
Design and Summation
A word about the app’s design now. It is difficult to fault the content itself, which is nothing less than staggering in its extensiveness. However, “crude” is a fair word to use to describe the arrangement of the main menu, considering that there’s not too much polish involved to smooth the edges or inject a bit of artwork into the constellation maps like you will find in SkyView Free. However, a majority of the app’s users won’t come to it for sleek, modern design, but rather its powerful sky-mapping functionality and extensive information regarding objects in the night sky. For this purpose, the app’s design cannot be faulted.
This, when it comes down to it, is an app designed by professional astronomer Wolfgang Zima, and said designer’s credentials shine through in this app’s extensive content. It’s not the smoothest to run (simply because of the sheer weight of its content), but it’s likely the most powerful and comprehensive Star Mapping and general astronomy app available in the world today.