Mobile Observatory

App review by
Amanda Bindel, Common Sense Media
Mobile Observatory App Poster Image
Impressive tool for stargazing, learning about astronomy.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this app.

Educational Value

Kids can learn to identify objects in the night sky as well as learn about upcoming astronomical events. The mobile observatory includes information about planets and objects in our solar system as well as location assistance for finding the objects in the sky and point-and-identify capabilities. Kids can point the device at the sky and see a map that labels the stars or constellations they are seeing. They can also choose a specific planet or object and be guided by red arrows where to point the device to find that object in the sky.  Kids can learn through real-world practice with this excellent hands-on astronomy tool.

Ease of Play

A written tutorial orients kids to the controls, but much of the interaction uses sensor controls, which can be a little tricky to get used to. The user interface for Mobile Observatory is one of the easier to navigate for astronomy newbies.

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What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Mobile Observatory uses GPS-mapping of your current location to find and identify objects in the night sky. GPS can be disabled easily in the location settings, and kids can instead enter Google Maps coordinates or their city. They can use the map to identify objects in the night sky by pointing the device at them and seeing the labeled items in the area, or they can search for specific objects, being directed by red arrows to the object in the sky.

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What's it about?

Mobile Observatory works like many other stargazing apps -- point the device at an object in the night sky to see what it is, or search for a specific object in the sky, guided by red arrows. It also adds more features, all easily accessible on the home screen. Kids can browse the list of upcoming events, finding out, for example, that tomorrow night Ceres will be at its best evening visibility of the year and can be viewed with binoculars or a small telescope. They can find specific information about the moon's stages or find out about upcoming eclipses. There's also detailed information about each planet, including the dwarf planets and objects in deep space.

Is it any good?

Putting Mobile Observatory into kids' hands is like giving them full access to an observatory and planetarium along with a docent to guide them on their self-paced tour. The amount of information is mind-boggling, and the options for viewing and learning about the night sky are impressive. Some of the information is more suited to amateur (or even professional) astronomers than casual stargazers, but even the backyard sky watcher will find useful information that is easily accessible and mostly understandable.

This is not a made-for-kids app; rather it is a real-world tool for astronomy buffs. It includes information that may be difficult to follow without some prior knowledge (degree of location, rise, transit, and set times of celestial bodies). The descriptions of the planets and other stars are written in an easy-to-understand style that older elementary kids will appreciate, but the observation specs included in the app are geared more for middle- or high-school kids who have had some instruction in astronomy and night sky coordinates.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Plan a skywatching evening using Mobile Observatory. Have binoculars or a small telescope on hand if recommended.

  • Use Mobile Observatory from different locations to see how a few miles -- or more if you travel -- change the view of the sky. Discuss what is and is not different about the sky view from the different locations.

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