The Sciences

Three iPhone science apps

Bad AstronomyBy Phil PlaitMar 3, 2010 7:00 PM


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Three iPhone apps recently came out that pertain to some favorite topics on this blog, so here's a quick roundup of them.

1) John Cook, like me, got tired of hearing the same old long-debunked claims from global warming deniers being used over and over again, so he created an app debunking these claims. Called Skeptical Science, it divides the claims into three categories: It's not happening, It's not us, and It's not bad. Under each heading are quite a few claims I've seen made repeatedly by the deniers, and Cook includes detailed rebuttals. Overall I like this app, and it's bound to be handy if you find yourself in a situation where someone is using these same claims (it's the Sun, the hockey stick graph is flawed, Al Gore is boring, and so on). I might quibble with some of the details -- for example, it talks about 1934 being the warmest year on record, but doesn't mention that 1998, the second warmest, trails behind by a statistically insignificant 0.02 degrees. There's more like that, but this is such a small detail it really comes down to a matter of style; an "I woulda done it different" kind of thing. The content is good and links are provided for further info. I recommend having this one handy, so here's the direct download link.

2) Next up is a NASA app called 3D Sun. And not to trick you or anything, but it's an app that displays the Sun in 3D. Put out by the folks behind the STEREO probes, it's a pretty cool gizmo that reports new sunspots and aurorae, lets you look at movies of solar events like plumes, filaments, and coronal mass ejections, and gives you the latest solar news. The best thing is the 3D Sun itself. It displays the current solar disk, and you can look at it in different wavelengths (UV shows more violent activity) and from different solar observatories. You can zoom in, out, rotate the view, and pretend you're on a spaceship roaring past our nearby star. Now that the Sun is finally starting to show some life again, this app is pretty useful so you know what's the latest. Here's the direct download link.

3) The third app is called Lunar Electric Rover, and it's also put out by NASA. Of the three, I think this is the weakest. It's essentially a game where you command a lunar rover to traverse the Moon to get to different goals. Now, to be fair, I'm not really partial to these kinds of games, so if they're your thing, you may love this. I found it to be a bit slow and tedious, and the narration was stilted and difficult to hear over the background sound effects. But again, I'm not a big fan of the "go over here and do this" kinds of games. I'll note that after I took my own notes on the app, I went to the iTunes listings and the ratings are not all that great; out of 102 ratings, 130 scored it as average or below and 62 above average or great. Lots of folks thought the same things I did. However, I do think some younger kids will enjoy this. The graphics are quite good, and there is real information displayed and used in the game that provide lots of teachable moments. Here's the download link.

So, do you agree, disagree? All three apps are free, so I encourage readers to grab 'em, play with 'em, and leave your own comments below!

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