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iPod/iPhone App Reviews: Distant Suns (Lite)

As we’ve mentioned a couple of times here on the OWC Blog, astronomy and space travel have a firm place in the history of OWC. With that in mind, it was kind of a natural choice for this week’s Free App Review: Distant Suns (Lite).

App Store Description:

Sporting a database of thousands of stars, nebula and galaxies, Distant Suns has earned the reputation of both having one of the most realistic displays of the night sky, while being one of the easiest to use astronomy programs available for the most casual sky watcher and serious telescope jockey alike.

Here’s what people said about the original Distant Suns:

  • 5 Stars from
  • 5 Stars in
  • 4 Stars from

Features include:

  • Best tech support in this and parallel universes
  • Thousands of pinpoint stars scintillating like diamond dust in the palm of your hand (but not nearly as scratchy)
  • Realistic ghostly band of the Milky Way
  • All 88 constellations with articles on their mythology
  • All 9 planets (yes, we feel that little Pluto got a bad rap so in the Distant Suns universe it is still a planet)
  • Sun and Moon
  • GPS aware
  • What’s Up? Gives a quick snapshot overview of where all of the important stuff is
  • Easy one-handed operation.
  • Point and Identify mode reveals the hidden data for each of the stars, planets and deep-sky wonders
  • Planetary data and information
  • IM the author with astronomical questions. And he may answer if he’s not napping. AIM Handle: lazyastronomer. Also on Twitter at distantsuns.

What does the full version have that this doesn’t?

  • The ability to change date/time and accelerate time to study the heavenly motions
  • Over 130,000 stars, down to magnitude 10
  • Mythical figures for all constellations
  • The ability to fine tune the star’s sizes and images from simple to stunning
  • Be able to filter out dimmer stars to match your local sky
  • Compass support for iPhone 3GS users, just aim the phone at the sky and see what you’re looking at.
  • Augmented Reality: displays the stars on top of your phones video image
  • Nightvision mode keeps your eyes dark-adapted when outside at night
  • Smoothly slews to each object when selected
  • Limits the current-event alert to one showing.
  • Additional landscape images
  • Third toolbar for ease of navigation
  • Extra in-depth data about each object

The Universe just got, well…uh…”smaller.”

OWC Chris’s Review

Very often, I have found a friend, significant other, parent, et cetera, asking me what a particular dot in the night sky is. While I’m usually pretty good with this, there are times that my increasingly leaky memory fails me. Now, though, I can pull out my iPod Touch and with a couple of taps, I can find out which star they’re looking at and tell them.

Setup is pretty simple. Just set your location and time and Distant Suns will show you what’s currently in the sky. you can scroll across the sky and zoom in on areas of interest. Basicly, it’s like an electronic version of the book of star charts I normally keep in my car.

Living in a moderately light-polluted area, looking at nebulae and such with my telescope is pretty much out of the question without a half hour drive to the middle of a cornfield, and even then, viewing isn’t all that great. As a result, I tend toward looking at planets and the occasional cluster.

That’s where Distant Suns comes in extra-handy. There’s a nifty little feature called “what’s up” that shows you which planets are currently over the horizon and where, approximately, they are. You can then go back to the main screen and find a more exact positioning to aim your telescope.

Sure, there are glitches here and there, such as some incomprehensible results when trying to view in landscape mode. For the price, however, I’m willing to let that slide, especially as it is supposedly addressed in the paid version.

Final Verdict: If you’re a casual viewer, this is certainly a great way to find information on what you’re looking at. More advanced users may want to consider upgrading to the full iPhone or iPad version, which has more information and  features.

OWC Michael’s Review

If I take a look at the northern sky, throughout most of the year, I can find the Big Dipper.  I can even use the two stars at the far end to point out The North Star. Beyond that, I’ve forgotten more constellations than I can remember, so this app comes in handy when relaxing under the night sky trying to remember all the constellation I used to know from my childhood as a Jr. Astronomer. (So sorry, Mr. Tuttle.) But with Distant Suns Lite, I can now easily search out what I’m looking at in the night sky, and not just stars and  constellations. With the app, I can find the planets, galaxies, nebulas and clusters. It really is a handy reference.

However, after seeing the full version of Distant Suns in action, I’ve got to say that this lite version doesn’t hold a candle to its big brother. With the full version (currently $6.99 in the iTunes Store for iPhone 3Gs or $8.99 for iPad), you can simply hold the phone up to the sky and the compass support will show you exactly what you’re looking at.  Move the phone across the sky, and the display follows.  It’s really cool.

Overall: Whereas the lite version will get you by as a casual sky watcher, this is an app I highly suggest forking over the cash for the full version. You won’t be disappointed.

OWC Michael H’s Review

I absolutely love apps like this. While I have more robust apps I purchased like Star Field on iPad, for those looking to look at the stars, you can’t miss with this handy guide on the planets and more in this very decent free app. The star viewer offers smooth scrolling and some detailed info as well. The app’s also fairly deep with more info to uncover in the bottom navigation.

Recommendation: A Must Try!

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