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The final frontier is yours to explore on your iPad

Take a trip to the stars with this high-res science and discovery app that's optimized for the new iPad.

Wonders of the Universe
An animated model of the black hole in the Andromeda galaxy is one of many spectacles to behold in Wonders of the Universe.
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Wonders of the Universe -- based on the BBC series of the same name from HarperCollins -- is an elegant and visually gorgeous app that lets you explore our known universe on your iPad. The app comes with more than 2.5 hours of HD video, dazzling 3D graphics of everything from subatomic particles to galaxies, and tons of information to read as you explore, and it offers an excellent use of the iPad's touch-screen interface to browse all the content.

We got a sneak peak at the app, but Wonders of the Universe will not be available until tomorrow in the iTunes App Store. HarperCollins says the app will be at the discounted price of $6.99 initially, but will go up to $9.99 sometime after the launch.

Wonders of the Universe
Swipe to read content, or situate the video (top) in the middle of the screen to start the movie. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

The app starts you off by explaining the touch-screen interface and how to navigate through all of the content. While looking at an animated celestial body, you can touch and swipe to look around, or touch a named star or planet to zoom in and get more information. When you're not looking at celestial bodies full-screen, panels come up at the bottom of the interface, and touching and dragging a panel upward lets you view the text or video content associated with what you're currently looking at. Videos and images are embedded in the text, so you can swipe up to read the information until you reach a video, then watch as the video is switched to full-screen automatically. Another swipe lets you continue reading, and once you get to the end you can swipe the text to the top of the screen to return to the paneled view.

There's plenty of content to browse, but exploring the universe is where the app really shines. At the top of the screen you have a button for quickly viewing content from different levels. Zoomed all the way out, you can look at the known universe in its entirety, and you can switch to more close-in views, such as looking at planets, zooming in through every step, all the way to subatomic particles. You're not required to use the quick navigation button, though; you also can use pinch gestures to zoom in and touch object names to view more information.

Wonders of the Universe
Read and watch video of information about the solar system's biggest planet or get a closer look at its moons. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Wonders of the Universe features video commentary about places you explore in the app from Brian Cox's award-winning BBC series (of the same name) and 210 full-color articles to browse. As you explore, there are hundreds of images you can refer to for more information as well. But whether you're exploring the content point by point, or simply jumping around to different parts of the universe, the app is a joy to use and looks amazing on the iPad 2 -- and even better on the new iPad.

HarperCollins says the app will eventually become available for the iPhone as well, but couldn't give an exact date at this time for the launch.

Wonders of the Universe
Get a look at the particles that make up our universe by drilling down to the subatomic level. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Wonders of the Universe might be one of the best educational apps to date for iOS, with tons of scientific content to browse, an excellent touch interface, and beautifully animated celestial bodies you can explore. Anyone with an interest in the universe around us or who just likes to browse a well-made app with exceptional visuals should download Wonders of the Universe.