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Review: ‘Journey to the Exoplanets’ for the iPad

It’s a bit like spending the afternoon at a science museum or a planetarium, without the hassle of a car or bus trip, of course. Once you experience Journey that’s a convenience you’ll appreciate, since you’re bound to return to it again and again. See what our reviewer Dan Greene has to say about this production, then circle back and listen to this video introduction by Scientific American‘s Editor in Chief, Mariette DiChristina. Quite frankly, this app is out of this world.

Title: Journey to the Exoplanets
Edward Bell
Illustrated by:
Ron Miller
Published by: Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Scientific American
Developed by: Brandwidth
iOS, requires  4.0 or later
Version: ooo1

Gr 7 Up-Journey to the Exoplanets is a stellar example of this new medium and one that will engage readers with its fascinating essays, stunning illustrations, and interactive capabilities. Bell’s clear and concise text includes contributions by his colleagues at Scientific American and others from the greater scientific community. Together the essays and visuals in Journey offer a brief history of the field, a discussion of the types of planets, and a look at current investigations into planets outside our solar system. To date more than 550 of these bodies have been confirmed, the majority—“gas or ice giants.”

Screen shot from "Journey to the Exoplanets' (Miller) FSG & Scientific American

From a “Mission Control” panel, which serves as a table of contents, viewers can choose to start with a video introduction or proceed directly to any number of options, including chapters titled “What Is a Planet?” “What Is a Star?” “Radiation and Space Travel,” and “Finding Exoplanets.” The more than 100 full-color illustrations by Miller are so powerfully rendered that viewers may forget they are looking at illustrations of alien landscapes and imagine that they are seeing actual photographs.

The app takes full advantages of the capabilities of the platform: audio commentary is embedded into the essays and a “Exoplanet News” feed will update 
readers on the latest scientific findings. Several planets can be inspected using the gyroscope control of the iPad. (Standing in one place, and slowly turning the tablet, viewers will see an expanded view of the planet’s surface.) Images can also be pinched in or magnified. “Planet Picker” delivers a few facts about selected exoplanets, while “Planet Builder” allows users to create a model that will be modified according to its size, age, etc.

Additional features include a “Little Scientist” section where students will find basic  experiments, an illustrated timeline of major discoveries, “Expert Views” on new discoveries, and much more. The only bug encountered was when trying to switch from one experiment to another or from one “Expert View” to another; attempting to do either of these operations may cause the app to shut down. Despite this problem, Journey is a first-rate production that will appeal to both teachers and students for its rich content and engaging interactivity. A solid win.—Daniel Greene, U32 Middle/Senior High School, Montpelier, VT