Discover Space. (educational software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Phillip Morgan
The heavens have been an endless source of fascination throughout human history. But the hard science that underlies our understanding of the cosmos is often daunting. Many of the concepts of astronomy are more easily understood if learned visually - a task for which computers are perfectly suited. Broderbund's Discover Space lets your computer show you the sun, moon, planets, and stars, as well as the ships we've used to explore them. Its text and many pictures, illustrations, and animations put astronomical concepts into context and explain them with abundant use of comparison and analogy.
But what sets Discover Space apart from so many educational programs is its usefulness even after you've seen all its images and animations. The program's Skyline feature can plot 7000 stars, 110 deep space objects, 90 constellations, and the nine planets, all positioned as they would be seen from any point on earth. Not only that, but the plot can be made at any time, on any day in the past, present, or future. Discover Space can animate the stars to show how they appear to travel across the heavens and print a time and location-specific star map, so you'll know exactly where to find what you're looking for in the night sky.
Discover Space can also show you the phase of the moon for virtually any date, trace the path of 33 past and future solar eclipses, and calculate the damage caused by an asteroid striking the Earth. You determine the asteroid's size and velocity, and the program will superimpose the resulting crater over one of several U.S. sites to give you an idea of the destruction such a catastrophe would cause.
You can run Discover Space in VGA or 256-color SVGA mode, but the latter requires a VESA driver. Running in SVGA not only gives better color representation but also allows for more and better animation. Although some animations were noticeably faster on a 486, Discover Space ran well on a 33Mhz 386DX machine with 4MB of memory. Running in SVGA slowed operation slightly, but the loss. of speed was well worth the gain in image quality.
While sound isn't essential, the program supports several popular sound cards, and the music and background noises make it considerably more impressive. Viewing skylines in SVGA mode with outdoor sounds is almost like looking out an open window.
Neither the program's operation nor its content is difficult to grasp, yet it's by no means just a children's program. Whether you're interested in astronomy, space travel, or science fiction or just like looking at the stars, Discover Space offers an abundance of stellar information and entertainment.
(800) 521-6263 (415) 382-4400 $50-$60 suggested price range
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