There’s enough general astronomy/cosmology apps out there to satisfy the needs of a large proportion of mobile-phone users, so why not experience a more focused space-based app with Solar Walk – Planets? Having been downloaded over 6 million times, Solar Walk’s appeal is its high-fidelity model of our Solar System.
At very least, this app allows you to gaze on in awe at the sheer size of the Solar System, as well as the Milky Way galaxy in which it is located – at most it is a sublime piece of education mobile software for aspiring astronomers. The app’s as much about setting a wondrous atmosphere as it is about straight-laced learning, though, so expect somewhat of a more dramatic and emotion-provoking experience compared to the relatively dry, calculated, cold-hard facts/interface of apps like Mobile Observatory.
Upon opening the app, it is immediately apparent that this isn’t your usual star-mapping experience. You’re immediately greeted with a relative close-up of a 3D rendering of planet Earth, as viewed from an elevated position in space. Swiping left and right allows you to discover that what you’re experiencing here is an immersive 3D model of the entire Solar System. Solar Walk – Planets’ greatness should be on its way to being in full swing by the time you’ve had a little swipe around – few apps, if any, offer this kind of interactive orrery of our very own Solar System, complete with atmospheric music and detailed 3D models of the Solar System, portrayed with accurate scaling, too.
The main function of the app is to act as a 3D model of the solar system, but it’s far from your standard plastic or low-resolution rendering. Each planetary body, as well as the sun and the inter-planetary objects like asteroids belts, is reproduced in 3D and in stunning detail. The sun is an ideal example of such detail, displaying a textured surface with coronas and flares, while Earth, Mercury, Mars, Venus, and the remaining planets are all rendered accurately, in real size, and holding their accurate orbits around the sun. It’s slightly more visually impressive than the free-to-experience online model of Solar System Scope, but it could be a little more detailed considering it costs £1.99.
One of the most fascinating functions of the app, aside from its wealth of information about each planetary body (covered below), is the ability to tinker with time. Worked nicely into the cleanly-designed interface is a slider with incremental notches (located on the left of the screen; just tap on the Clock Face icon to bring it up. You can select the year, month, day, and time of day, and proceed to use the slider to change the model of the solar system to reflect the year, date, and time you’ve selected. This essentially makes the app a virtual time machine in relation to the state of the solar system and the orbit/position of its objects.
Lots of Planetary Wonder
The fascination for amateur astronomers doesn’t have to stop at the 3D model itself – this app also has some detailed information about each of the planets and the sun. To bring up the info, simply tap on the object you want to know about. This brings up a menu where you can pull up a general blurb about each object and more detailed information about the composition and general history of the planet.
The app is useful as an index of statistics about each planet, too, such as their measurements, surface temperatures, composition, mass, volume, and average distance from the sun. You can even take a peek inside some of the planets with the “Internal Structure” icon, which slices open the planet before your eyes so you can take a look. It’s not unique, however – such detail is also present in rival app Solar System Explorer, which is free to download.
Most impressive about the app is its design, however. Not only is the 3D model of the solar system accurate, but the planets are rendered in wonderful detail while the interface remains simple yet modern-looking, and most importantly, doesn’t appear to lag or stutter when you’re swiping around the solar system.
The only true drawback here is the fact that in order to allow the planets to be displayed in super-hi-resolution, you must do so by agreeing to further in-app purchases. This is a shame, considering the app costs an initial £1.99, one would expect not to have developers Vito Technology as more money of you just to get more detail in the 3D models. Still, there are plenty of images of each object to enjoy, as well as an abundance of stats and information about each one. Solar Walk – Planets is as much an educational tool as a fascinating novelty where you get to zoom around the virtual solar system.