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Daily iPad App: Solar Walk

Mel Martin
Mel Martin|September 2, 2011 4:30 PM

Want to tour the Solar System? Solar Walk is a just-updated universal iOS app that allows you to do just that. The new version has support for 3D, so you get some rather stunning renditions of planets and satellites that are more realistic than what's available in a 2D presentation. I reviewed the app in 2010 and found it to be very educational.

Solar Walk would be very nice for teachers, who could plug it into external monitors in the classroom. As near as I can tell, the app doesn't support the high end 3D method that uses shutter glasses or polarizing filters, but instead uses the tried and true red/blue anaglyphic glasses that became popular in the fifties. They are cheap, and easily available from suppliers like Amazon. Note: A late email from the developer says you can use the app with a 3D TV although it is not noted in the app help. Here's how to do it if you have a 3D TV.:

1. Connect your iPad with an HDMI adapter to the 3d TV
2. Switch on 3D function in Solar Walk Menu.
3. There will appear a question what type of 3D you want to use anaglyph glasses or 3D TV. Choose 3D TV.
4. On you 3D TV screen there will appear two pictures on a screen.
5. Switch 3D mode on a TV.
6. Put on 3D glasses and enjoy.

You can also see the 3D images just fine on the iPad. Solar Walk includes very detailed graphics and information about our solar system, and this new version adds some movies (in 2D) on tides, circles of latitude, and the zodiacal constellations. My favorite 3D view was of Saturn and its moons.

With 3D glasses on, the planets and artificial satellites come alive. It was interesting to watch things like the Hubble Space Telescope in its proper real time position slowly gliding over the earth far below. You can navigate to any view that you like, using finger gestures, and you can zoom in and out as well. There is an option to listen to music while you use the app, but I found the music forgettable and distracting.

Screen captures are supported and background stars are rendered in their proper positions. Solar Walk is very educational, but as before, the textual information is still a bit thin. I always found myself wanting to read more. Perhaps some links to NASA or Wikipedia would be in order. Still, the new features are worthwhile and the app is a reasonable US$2.99.

This app was created by the team that made the much praised Star Walk app. This app is of equal quality and the graphics are sharp and very attractive. There are some (2D) screen shots in the gallery below.