Saturday, August 18, 2007

Astronomy for beginners - Free Software

Since you're reading this online I'm assuming you already have a computer, and that's a good thing because starting out in astronomy for beginners with a computer is a huge step forward over what we had in the past.
You still need a planisphere for when you're outdoors looking at the real sky but now you can also study the heavens at any time of day or night, winter or summer no matter what the weather by running awesome computer simulation software. There are lots of packages available which cost anything from $19 to thousands, but now I'm going to let you in to the secret of open source software. Open source software is written by people who are happy to release the code whoich makes it work out into the public domain. That means it's completely free and legal for you to download it and run it for nothing. And often it works even better than the commercial software.


Stellarium is a free open source planetarium for your computer. It shows a realistic night sky in three dimensions, just like what can be seen with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope but without any danger of cloud cover obscuring the stars. Another amazing thing about Stellarium is that all the documentation, questions and answers are available on a great Wiki with community support. To get started, all you have to do is download Stellarium for Windows, Linux or Mac, set your location from the map in the configuration window, (the default is Paris) then use your mouse or arrow keys to look around. Use the page up and page down keys to zoom in and out. Zooming on nebulas or planets is very interesting!

1 comment:

Kahunna said...

Stellarium is sweet! Thanks for the suggestion. I was able to skip ahead to the morning of Sept 1st to figure out how/when to photograph the Aurigid meteor shower. Thanks again for pointing out this cool program!