Solar System Explorer

App review by
Amanda Bindel, Common Sense Media
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Beautiful astronomy app is a handheld planetarium.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Kids will learn about the solar system -- all the planets (plus Pluto) and the major moons as well as some spacecraft that have explored our solar system. They'll read short descriptions peppered with interesting facts (such as that one of Saturn's moons, Mimas, has an enormous crater that makes it look like the "Death Star" from Star Wars, even though detailed images of the moon showing the crater weren't available when the movies were made. Crazy!). Kids will feel as if they're in space. This well-produced app will fascinate kids even only remotely interested in space and may convert some new fans to the wonders of the solar system.

Ease of Play

The controls are intuitive, and exploration is the point, anyway.

Violence & Scariness
Sexy Stuff

There's a link to the developer's other apps in the settings menu.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Solar System Explorer is a dynamic educational app that lets kids explore space on a few levels. Nonreaders will enjoy exploring the interactive 3-D solar system model, but kids who can read will better appreciate the details offered about each celestial body. Families who enjoy other sky-watching apps such as Star Walk might appreciate the broader perspective of our solar system that Solar Explorer offers.

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What's it about?

Starting with an overall view of the whole solar system, kids pinch to zoom and examine planets more closely, rotate to view the planetary rotation from different perspectives, or tap a specific planet to see it up close and in detail. When the whole solar system is on-screen, each planet, major moons, and a few spacecraft are displayed as small icons on the bottom. Kids can click any of these for a closer image. Choosing a planet brings up small icons for each of that planet's moons. Kids can click the information button for any object -- planet, moon, or spacecraft -- to learn more about it. Kids also can tap the calendar icon at the top of the screen and enter a specific date, today, past, or future, and see the planetary alignment on that day. They then can choose how fast the time progression moves (on the clock), showing how the planets rotate around the sun.

Is it any good?

Kids will find a lot to explore -- literally, the whole solar system. SOLAR EXPLORER is an interactive reference, the kind of "textbook" Wesley Crusher would have used. The high-definition, 3-D graphics are amazing, and options can be customized for small-screen mode or tablet to allow for optimal viewing. The written descriptions and details about each body are interesting, too, and include information such as appearance, structure, atmosphere, and facts, such as "To date, there have been more than 40 attempted missions to Mars, of which the majority ended in failure." 

The true beauty of the app, besides its outstanding interactive graphics, is that kids will learn so much and enjoy the process of simply exploring the app by moving through the solar system, turning the planets to view them from all sides, and getting a real sense of what space is all about.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the size of space. Help kids grasp how vast our universe is by comparing the size of the sun and Earth; show them 110 centimeters (43.3 inches) and 1 cm, explaining that that is the scale of the sun to Earth.

  • Talk to kids about how technology makes mapping our universe a growing possibility and discuss how past generations learned and speculated about the heavens.

App details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love exploring space

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