Astronomy hobby rebooted!

I’ve lived in downtown Vancouver for a decade now, and the light pollution has mostly killed my favourite hobby: I used to be an amateur astronomer. I was pretty into it. I had an 8" reflector on a great, simple Dobsonian mount. I put in enough time with that thing back in the day that, even now, I could probably still star hop my way to some cool deep sky objects on trails of 8th magnitude landmarks. I still have my constellations down cold — I don’t think that will ever change — and I can still reel off a lot star names and fun astronomy facts. When I look up, I have a pretty good idea what I’m looking at. (And thanks for all that, Dad!)

My iPad may now breathe a new sort of life into my old hobby.

I always liked armchair astronomy just as much as doing it. I saw the potential for amazing astronomy apps quite early, but some of the earlier ones were a bit of a disappointment and I kind of dropped it for a while. But after giving the tech another year? And with a new, high-resolution iPad? It was time to check in on the state of the astronomy apps.

Thanks to a MacWorld article reviewing apps that look great on the new iPad’s Retina display, I tried out Solar Walk ( … and then quickly discovered Star Walk and SkySafari as well. And wow: astronomy apps have been coming right along. I spent a giddy hour tapping and scrolling furiously around these apps last night. My brain was pumping out exclamations at a steady clip:

Whoa, cool!


This is so great!

Oooh, good idea.


This is so great!


Whoa! Neat. Wow. So neat.

So great! OMFG, really great!

And so on.

I think I almost started weeping with nostalgia when I stumbled on the red-light feature of SkySafari. Everything goes red, to preserve night vision! OMFG! So great! While the two Walk apps are “just” really cool educational apps, the red mode is what really sets SkySafari apart as an astronomer’s tool.

I could go on and on about these apps (and I’m sure there are others). But all I really wanted to say was:

Astronomy! iPads! Retina display! So great! It is not an exaggeration to say that I would want an iPad even if this was the only thing it did. Solar Walk alone, with its gobsmacking power to “fly” you around the solar system looking at stunning real photography of planets and weird moons, is truly a bit of a modern miracle, something that I have been craving to do since I was eight years old.