[iPhone] Monitor potentially tech-killing solar flares with 3D Sun

mzl.nhbrlltu.320x480-75If you’re passionate about technology, then you may know that solar activity can have a potentially disastrous effect on all kinds of tech, from radios to navigation equipment to infrastructure. Given the fact that solar activity is supposed to peak during 2013, more and more people are getting interested in monitoring solar activity. One tool for doing so is 3D Sun, developed by Dr. Tony Phillips.

What is it and what does it do

Main Functionality

3D Sun is an app that makes your phone chirp in your pocket to let you know about major solar flare activity. The app presents a 3D, digital reconstruction of the sun, based on satellite images freshly downloaded from NASA’s “STEREO” satellites. News alerts — provided by a Ph.D. trained astrophysicist — inform you of important solar events.

Pros

  • Great for noting solar events that could cause interference with technology
  • Alerts are delivered even when the app isn’t running (if Push Notifications are turned on)
  • Perfect for aurora borealis spotters
  • Developed in collaboration with NASA scientists from the Heliophysics division (that’s physics of the sun)
  • Easy to navigate and explore, includes plenty of help definitions for science newbies
  • Close up views of sun spots and other solar phenomena
  • Beautiful images

Cons

  • Solar model is easy to manipulate, but a bit confusing to a layperson
  • News is sometimes few and far between: the most recent newsfeed items are from Jan 2, Nov. 16, and October 23
  • Some terminology used in the news area of the app are not clearly explained in the glossary
  • News archive only appears to go back about one year

Discussion

mzl.nmqexomj.320x480-75Interestingly enough, solar flares are less of a problem for cell phones and more of a problem for GPS, since they are run by satellites. So if you’re expecting this app to give you a cue about when your phone might not work, know that solar flare-caused cell interruption is pretty rare in the first place. What this app does help to predict, however, are the major solar flares that might adversely affect radio or GPS.

Even if you know nothing about the sun beyond your high school classes, it’s fairly easy to get a handle on what’s happening with our favorite star. The Help section contains a pretty decent glossary, though it could be more comprehensive. The News section does a fairly good job of putting solar activity into layman’s terms, though the 3D Sun model itself could be a little more user-friendly.

Of special interest is the SDO gallery, which features amazing color images of the sun, taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. The images captured by this observatory are ten times more clear that your HDTV set, and you can view the images as a still, or as a movie clip. I do wish that the archives for this section and the news section were more extensive.

Conclusion and download link

If you are at all interested in astronomy, technology, or self-education, 3D Sun is definitely worth checking out. There’s something for everyone here, including photo nerds, science buffs, and tech fans. It might seem like a dull science app on the surface, but it has surprising depth if you play around with it. The solar flare cycle is set to peak this year, so this is one app download that just makes good sense.

Price: Free

Version reviewed: 4.2

Requires iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch, iOS 4.0 or later

Download size: 4.9 MB

3D Sun on Apple App Store

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1 comment

  1. AFPhys

    Tony Phillips has been offering EMails and such via SpaceWeather.com for more than 10 years now. Excellent product for those of us who are aurora watchers, or ham radio operators. This is a natural progression of a well respected service.