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Free planetarium software

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Free planetarium software
October 20, 2009 04:44PM
Neat 3D views of the night sky. Roll the mouse around the bottom left corner of the window to bring up the hidden toolbars. To close the program, click on the red "X" on the bottom toolbar; the icon to the left of the red "X" reduces the screen size.

OCTOBER 5, 2009
Eyes on the Skies
Heavenly view: Stellarium.

AS THE DAYS GROW SHORTER AND THE NIGHT skies clearer (if also colder), gazing at the heavens through a telescope or binoculars can again be a delight. But it's much more fun if you know what you are looking at -- and the best thing for that is a good computer astronomy program. Many are available, at prices that top $200, depending on the version. But since I'm only an occasional astronomer, I much prefer a free, downloadable alternative, Stellarium.

Stellarium; Price: Free. Stats: 600,000 planetary objects in the basic database. More available. Features: Works with Windows, Mac and Linux computers. Downloadable user manual. Website: www.stellarium.org

Available for Windows, Mac and Linux computers, Stellarium opens to shows the sky as it looks now, from any point on Earth you specify. But you can skip ahead or backward in time, and even display the heavens from other planets -- say, from Mars, looking at the Earth.
You can also customize the view extensively, varying settings to highlight planets, nebulae, major stars and even the constellations. Click on any space object, a planet or a star, and you can zoom toward it and read a text box with basic information as to its name, magnitude, distance and other features.
One nice touch is the button that shifts the entire display into red, for easier viewing on a laptop when you take it outside. Additional downloads are available to add more faint stars, asteroids and comets.
But let me also caution that Stellarium is very much a work in progress. In fact, it's still a beta, or test, program. I have looked at both the PC and Mac versions, and both in certain respects seem unfinished, lacking the neat, tidy features that you expect in a paid-for program. Still, those shortcomings are a small price to pay for an incredible view.
avatar Re: Free planetarium software
October 20, 2009 05:50PM
Been using for a couple years now, it's terrific, and FREE!
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