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Looking up at the sky, you may find yourself struck by one of the following emotions:
b. Worthless, when you realize how tiny and insignificant you are
If your answer is C, then perhaps it’s because you have no handy guide to the stars. But with Starmap, you’ll never be lost in space.
Starmap takes the best of astronomy and shrinks it to iPhone-sized proportions. Starmap makes good use of the iPhone’s interface, so pinching and zooming allows you to get a good look at the 120,000 stars on the main page, a starfield from the perspective of earth. (You can reach the starfield at any time by tilting your iPhone horizontally.)
In addition to the starfield, Starmap offers a menu of four views (more on that in a minute): planets, constellations, stars, and “deep field,” for nebulae, clusters, and galaxies. Selecting “planets,” reveals a list of visible planets plus their set time; tap on “all,” for a list of non-visible planets and their rise times.
When we tapped on Mars, Starmap sent us to the starfield with a large arrow pointing in the direction where we needed to scroll, so it was easy to find our way across the universe. Best of all, when we zoomed in, all of the planets’ features appear. With the crystal-clear resolution of the iPhone, we got to see the red of the red planet and count the rings of Saturn.
Here’s the tricky bit: next to the “deep field” button on the far right side, there’s a picture of what looks like a roller. It is, in fact, a roller. Run your finger over it. The menu flips three times, for other choices. (We missed it at first.)
These menus reveal a multitude of options. You can increase or decrease the light of the starfield, so you can see a view of the stars in daylight. Or you can dim the stars, so only the outlines of the constellations appear. In fact, there are so many options (like tracking meteor showers) that the best way to learn to use the app is to go to Starmap's main website, and go through the tutorials.
Although Starmap is a powerful pocket guide to stars, it’s not without flaws. Take the “catalog” search function. “Phobos,” one of the two moons of Mars, is listed in the “Ephemera” section under Mars, but searching for it in the catalog revealed nothing but the inky depths of, well, nothing. There were other technical difficulties, including one crash and a wonky arrow.Starmap is a great companion for stargazing when the sun is set, or even when the sun is high in the sky.