It’s probably not a stretch of the imagination to guess that science fiction fans tend to like science, nor is it a stretch to guess that Astronomy is a particular area of science that elicits interest. I thus welcomed the chance to take a look at the Journey to the Exoplanets, a multimedia iPad application that makes it fun to explore exoplanets (the planets outside our solar system).
The app begins in a mock shuttle cockpit (a Mission Control “home page”) that makes all the different areas of the app accessible. This is mostly overkill as the omnipresent menu bar makes most of these areas readily available throughout the app, however the cockpit does provide the only way to see the video Introduction, read the latest news, and read a small collection of articles written by experts in the field.
The menu itself guides users to different sections of the app:
- What is a Planet? – Explains how and when the planets were discovered, the different types of planets, and how the definition of a planet has changed over the years.
- Exoplanet Timeline – visually marks the important milestones in what we know about exoplanets.
- What is a Star? – talks about all the different types of stars and includes an interactive star chart of the 20 stars nearest our own.
- Radiation and Space Travel – talks about the lesser-known dangers of space travel.
- Finding Exoplanets – explores the different method scientists use to find exoplanets. Includes and interactive gallery of 8 planets.
- Exoplanet Gallery – A collection of 82 exoplanets (known and theoretical), each including a rendering of what it might look like. Some of these representations include a panoramic 360-degree view seen by either swiping or by holding the iPad and rotating your body.
- Planet Builder – lets you build your own exoplanet in real time by varying the star type, the planet’s distance from it, and the size and age of the planet.
- Filtering Starlight – explains how the spectrum of light affects the planets apparent color.
- Little Scientist – some basic astronomy experiments you can do at home.
Much of the information is presented in a variety of formats: images, text, audio, video and interactive, too. Ron Miller’s illustrations are wonderful and really elicit a sense of wonder. Edward Bell, author of the informative text, explains concepts in simple, easy-to-understand language. (One interesting bit of trivia learned: Science fiction author James Blish coined the term “gas giant”!)
It’s a well done app overall, although there are a few areas for improvement. The most severe nuisance: the app suffers from occasional crashes. Also, some pages had fonts that were too small to read comfortably. A font size setting would have been welcome. And the planet gallery brought up a panel for description even when none was available. Even with these drawbacks, Journey to the Exoplanets stands as a wonderful example of how to make learning fun.
Here’s a video demonstrating Journey to the Exoplanets: