The software products for astronomy are quite numerous, offering everything from simple cartography software (for relative positions of the solar system) to customized software. Except for the case when it is specifically said otherwise, all software products for astronomy have the following characteristics:
It simulates a visualization of the stars as if the observer would look at the horizon
It depicts the Sun, the Moon and the most important planets
It shows or hides the name or the symbols of the planets
It shows or hides the name of the constellations
It shows or hides names or designations of the most shining stars
It shows remote objects (for instance, the Andromeda galaxy)
It shows the lunar phases
It can vary the space-time coordinates of the observer
It can zoom in and zoom out to different sections of the sky
In this article, one shall have the chance to learn about the top 10 software products for astronomy, albeit the order is random as each astronomer most likely has his preferences in terms of the software that he uses, depending on the needs.
- Aladin can be undoubtedly considered a browser for astronomy. Instead of browsing the Internet, Aladin browses the images from astronomy, the density papers and other sources (for instance, Hubble, the Simbad database and the VizieR service). The user can select the object that he wants to see and Aladin will automatically download an image of that object. This software offers access to images made by highly qualitative telescopes in more than one wave length. In fact, the user literally looks through a gigantic telescope. The images are being downloaded from the Internet and thus some displays are updated in a few seconds and the results also depend on the connection speed and the number of used databases. The user also has the option of downloading files that he can evaluate in the offline mode.
The user can also override many visualizations and open up to 16 image panels. This is only one of the two pieces of software that can index each star and each profound spatial object and, also, that can display more than one image of each element. The user can also indicate a specific location by using the coordinates of the declination and the right ascension. The user can also catalog the visualizations. Because Aladin is essentially an image visualizing software and not a planetarium software, it does not contain objects from the solar system in its index. This software product requires a minimum version of Java 1.5 and it runs on Windows, Linux and Mac.
- Sky-Map.org (or WikiSky) is an online visualization software that uses the user’s Internet browser. The images from here are colored and are coming from various sources (for instance, DSS2 all Sky Survey, IRAS Infrared Sky Survey, as well as photos uploaded by individual users. This software can also index the location of the planets, but images of these planets are not available. This website also allows the user to upload images in order to be displayed in the catalogue for other individual users to use. Some of the visualizations have more than one layer of images, each of them being opaque to the ones beneath. If the user clicks left on an area with one or more images, the user will see a pop-up window in which the user can select the image that he wants to see. If the user attempts to zoom out, the multi-layer images might look a bit strange. This software requires an internet connection and a functional browser.
- Cartes du Ciel (or Skychart) is a very easy-to-use planetarium software. On the website, the user has access to additional catalogues for stars with a magnitude of up to 16, alongside with several other specialized catalogues. Also there are instructions for adding the entire PPMXL catalogue (a magnitude of 20) which requires 148 GB of free space on the user’s hard drive and 24 GB of RAM. Cartes du Ciel also has a calendar that can make calculations of the ephemeredes of the sunset, the planets, the Sun, the Moon, the comets, the asteroid and the Sun and Moon eclipses between any two randomly chosen dates. There is also an observer of the variable stars with previsions of the minimum and maximum values for many of the variable stars for the next several cycles. Cartes du Ciel can also control the computerized mount of a telescope. This software also includes numerous profound images of objects in the very window of the planetarium. This software can work properly on Windows, Linux and Mac platforms.
- Computer Aided Astronomy (or C2A) is also quite easy-to-use. As far as details are concerned, its index is placed on the 2nd position, after Cartes du Ciel. There are also several additional catalogues that are available for download. But there are also a lot of images that are included in the software’s pack. Unlike many other planetarium software, the images are being visualized through a separate windows in the image’s browser. If the user has an Internet connection, this software can also download images from ESO or STSsl that it will display in the image visualizing window or straight in the view of the planetarium. In the left side of the planetarium’s window, there are details with regards to the object depicted on the screen. This program also has the ability of remembering the visualizations and thus allows the user to move forward and backward through his recent visualizations.
Computer Aided Astronomy also has an ephemeredes generator that can generate tables for the Sun, the Moon, planets, comets and asteroids between any two randomly chosen dates. This software also has instruments that can generate the trajectories of the planets, asteroids and comets between any two dates. One of the instruments can show the Moon phases for the entire month. The instrument called Ecliptic View displays an animated visualization of the solar system, with asteroids and comets included. Computer Aided Astronomy can also control a computerized mount of a telescope. This software runs solely on Windows platforms.
- Stellarium creates pretty realistic visualizations of the sky. The basic software has over 600,000 stars (with a magnitude up to approximately 9.9) and other 240 million stars available as additional plug-ins. This is the only free software that depicts the constellations’ group for other cultures. The zoom also depicts real images of the planets and of some other profound celestial objects. Stellarium offers a lot of visual effects, including the Milky Way, stars that blink, falling stars, clouds and light pollution. There are also several landscapes included in this software. This software can also control the computerized mount of a telescope. The plug-in called ‘Satellites’ can calculate and play the satellites located on the terrestrial orbits using the NORAD/TLE data. Its catalogue, however, is rather weak in terms of comets and asteroids. This software can run on Windows, Linux and Mac platforms.
- WorldWide Telescope comes in two versions: Windows Client and Web Client. Both versions resemble a lot and work equally fine. If the user has an Internet connection, the Windows Client will simply download automatically the images that are not yet in the catalogue. The Windows Client version can also control a computerized telescope. This software’s catalogue is rather weak in terms of comets, asteroids and planets’ satellites (with the notable exception of Jupiter and its satellites).
- Home Planet is excellent in terms of locating artificial satellites, the comets and the asteroids. There are 256,000 stars in its catalogue. The planets’ satellites, like, for instance, Titan, are not displayed. The display is not at all as realistic as it’s the case with other software. The preset display of the sky is a display of the celestial map (like a circle with the horizon as circumference). There are smaller displays centered on the horizon and a zoom window of the telescope. There are no images for this software. The objects from the solar system are indicated merely through symbols. This software is portable – meaning that it works on Windows, Linux and Mac platforms.
- Celestia is a simulator of a space trip. The user can ‘travel’ in the entire solar system to any of those over 100,000 stars in the catalogue and can even go beyond the galaxy. There are also some completion softwares in order to extend the catalogues and the images with stars, comets, objects from the solar system and profound celestial objects. The user can even add fictional objects from movies like Star Trek, Star Wars, Babylon 5, and so on and so forth. Since this is a simulator and not a planetarium software, Celestia does not indicate any constellation whatsoever, cannot control a computerized telescope and has no method of indicating a specific location.
- Orbiter is space ship interplanetary simulator that follows the laws of physics. The user can launch his ‘ship’ almost anywhere in the solar system and can fly almost anywhere. There are several models of available ships (both historical and fictional). The user has to select the ship, the space port of launch and the destination. There is also a flying deck with three screens. The ship can also be seen from outside. It also has a complete tutorial that thoroughly explains the way in which the user can enjoy a success travel, including how to match the orbit with the destination. The user must also take care because the ship can also run out of fuel (albeit there is also a cheating option that grants unlimited fuel supply). The user can also make the journey in real time. Luckily there is also a time warp shortcut that can accelerate the time by up to 100,000 times, as there are not so many users willing to wait three days until they get to the Moon or a few months in case of journeys to the planets outside the solar system. This is the best software in term of artificial satellites and it’s even better than most of the softwares in this category when it comes to objects from our solar system. In spite of all of this, the interstellar mode is not sustained. The stars and the profound celestial objects are also displayed but a method of tracking them is located only outside the application’s domain.
- CyberSky 5 is a regular planetarium software. This software offers the standard characteristics – as the night sky can be seen at any time in the day. Albeit it is not the most beautiful software that exists, it is certain that this software shall not let the users down. Most of the new software use Open GL for that real aspect of the sky and this is obtained in the detriment of computer processor’s usage, graphic processor and the RAM memory. This software does exactly what it claims it can do and nothing else. CyberSky 5 runs only on Windows but only on Windows XP, Windows 7 and Windows Vista – both on the 32 bit and 64 bit versions.