March 8, 2013 1:00 pm

App roundup: Windows 8 ventures into outer space


Last week when David questioned my love of learning and knowledge, I’ll admit my feathers were ruffled. “But my liberal arts degree!” I said to myself. “Those free verse poems I wrote in college about Roman history! That book on Quantum Mechanics and String Theory that I’ve been meaning to read…”

So this week, I’m exploring astronomy and space apps.

I really do love space. It started when I saw the movie Apollo 13. For some reason, I found the movie’s depiction of nearly dying in space so inspiring that I decided as the credits were rolling that I was going to become an astronaut.

While I haven’t yet done any groundbreaking research on the International Space Station or established any outer space universities (I do have ideas: Mars Harvard, Space Yale), I still find the vast expanse of the universe both terrifying and inspiring. These apps from the Windows Store help feed my fascination, and help me look smart when I go stargazing with friends and can accurately point out constellations and planets.

Star Chart

Star Chart

Star Chart gives me the same feeling I got in the planetarium at college when my teacher would dim the lights and direct our gaze to the simulated sky above us. Basically, Star Chart is a little planetarium in your PC. You can explore the solar system and tap or click objects you want to learn more about. Galaxies, constellations, planets, and moons all light up and display info about themselves.

Even cooler, you can set the sky to reflect how it will look from any time and place. Going stargazing? You can use Star Chart to study up so you’ll know what you’re looking at. The app also lets you know when cool astronomy events are happening—for example, it told me that on April 25, there will be a partial lunar eclipse, and the moon will appear red.

NASA Be a Martian

NASA Be a Martian

This app is awesome and comprehensive. From updates on the Mars Curiosity rover to a history of all the Mars missions we’ve had, NASA Be a Martian is the place to learn about real-life quests to discover more about Mars. One of the coolest features of this app is a live chat feature called “Ask Dr. C,” where you can ask a “computerized scientist” questions about Mars—and he answers you in real time! I found out how big Mars is (about half the size of earth) and that it has two moons, Phobos (which means fear) and Deimos (which means panic). Not that I didn’t know those things already, of course.

The Final Frontier

The Final Frontier

The Final Frontier is a quick and easy way to find current, cool, and very real photos about astronomy and space. The app compiles several RSS feeds of astronomy photos and brings them together all in one place. You get NASA’s photo of the day, and a feed of updates from the Hubble Telescope, from Popular Science, and from the European Southern Observatory. Seeing real photos from space never ceases to amaze me, and I find this app is an easy way to stay informed about new developments in the astronomy field, and to catch cool glimpses into the universe I wouldn’t otherwise see. I especially like the European Southern Observatory’s feed—their photos show a lot of behind the scenes images from the real-life astronomy world, and they have detailed captions that help explain what I’m looking at.

Planet Story


I really wish apps had been a thing when I was in elementary school and that I’d had access to this one. Planet Story is a beautiful, clean, and simply designed app that brings together beautiful photos of each of the planets and basic info about each one. You can scroll through the entire solar system and stop at each planet to learn more about it.

Kids studying for astronomy tests and astronomy nerds alike, take note: Planet Story is a great tool to have on hand at any age.

Angry Birds Space


Nearly everyone I know has a soft spot for Angry Birds, and I’m willing to bet that most space and astronomy enthusiasts will have a soft spot for Angry Birds Space.

This game is actually kind of hard and really fun to play. It’s fun to see the familiar game re-imagined with the problematic twist of zero gravity, and it’s challenging and engaging enough to keep me busy for quite some time. Angry Birds is famous for being a challenge and for having many levels to go through—so much so that the game can feel almost as vast as the reaches of the known universe. This version is no exception. Star Wars fans should definitely also check out Angry Birds Star Wars, which Tatsuo wrote about in an earlier post.

There you have it—my 5 favorite space-related apps. Have you checked any of these out? What did you think? Did I miss any of your favorites? Let me know in the comments!

Updated November 7, 2014 7:57 pm