“Resources” page update

Thanks to @spacecrazed on twitter for alerting me that the Hayden Planetarium has their ‘Digital Universe’ 3D map and software available for download.  It takes between 450 and 467 megs depending on the features you pick, is available for Windows/Mac OSX/Linux and IRIX, and has just been added to my ‘Resources‘ page.

Image Artifact

imageIn most sciences, artifacts are things to be avoided.  Unless you’re an archaeologist, you do *not* want artifacts in your data.  Case in point: I was playing around with the Microsoft WorldWide Telescope  when I ran across this image, sitting out between Sirius and Orion.  If you look closely, you can see that it is an image of a brightening sky and multiple super-imposed images of the instrument package of a large telescope.   I don’t know which one, but with all the clutter there, I’m thinking it has to be a fairly big one.

Stellar Stellarium

Since I am a genuine astro-geek,  I have several pieces of software that I use in the course of my observing and education efforts.  One of the best products I’ve run across is Stellarium.

Stellarium is planetarium software which is open-source.  It is available for Linux, Windows, and Mac, and is currently at Rev 0.9.1.  I have been using it for over a year now on my laptop during star parties and in classrooms.

Stellarium starts with a very uncluttered interface, using some buttons across the bottom to control most features.  There are some features that are not controlled by the buttons, and you’ll have to learn the keystrokes for them.

Astronomy programs like “Starry Night” or “The Sky” may have more features, but Stellarium has a very rich feature set, and you can download it for free.

Reconsidering Google Sky

DaveP has a point.  Google Sky is not just another planetarium program.  Which is good, because as ‘just another planetarium program’ it sucks.   I was underwhelmed by the lack of coverage near the poles, and what’s up with that chrysanthemum  thingie  anyway?  There are broad fields of imagery that are obviously stitched together,  which I guess is to be expected,  since the same effect can be seen on Google Earth.

However, Dave points out that in his view the point and purpose of GS is not to be yet another planetarium, but rather as a vehicle for  sharing imagery, observation logs, or other sky data.

Now, maybe it’s because I’m a professional computer geek, and because I work with, on or inside computers all day, and because amateur astronomy is my escape, that I just don’t feel very motivated to go out and start hacking in KML.   I read Dave’s post, and while I agree that he has a point about the purpose of Google Sky, the point just doesn’t motivate me at all.

I can see people using GS as an educational tool, perhaps in a classroom setting, or perhaps in an online, collaborative environment.   My problem is that it’s just not *me*.  I want to get out under the stars and look at things, which is one of the reasons why I shy away from astrophotography.   I enjoy other people’s pictures, I just have no desire to go do it myself.

So, if people find GS a useful tool, I’m all for it.  I just don’t think I will, and my previously stated reasons stand.

Google Earth update with "Sky View"

 I have seen a few mentions of the new update to Google Earth which contains a sky view, Davep has a post as well as the Space Watch Michigan site. 

In order to obtain the feature, you simply upgrade to the latest Google Earth.  This adds a ‘sky’ button to the toolbar which looks like a graphic of Saturn.

My first impressions are mixed.  I like Stellarium and Celestia, and I’m probably not going to stop using them in favor of Google Earth for two significant reasons:  1) Google Earth requires a live broadband Internet connection, which is something I typically don’t have the luxury of at my usual observing site, and 2) Google Earth’s pictures of the sky are visibly stitched together, especially in the region around Polaris.  Take a look at this picture, it is the region around polaris, and it looks like it’s supposed to be a meteor shower radiant.  If you zoom in on that section what you see is blurred, smeared objects instead of nicely rendered pictures.

Having said that, the interface is intuitive, and if you are familiar with Google Earth it is easy to move around in it, find interesting objects, and zoom in on them.    The data appears to be coming from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and some of the pictures are impressive.  However, there are many visible ‘stitching’ lines across the views, which are distracting.

As a tool that introduces some basic astronomy concepts, it’s cool.  However, as a tool for use by anything more than the greenest amateur it falls short.


In a previous post I noted that the author of my favorite handheld planetarium software, 2Sky, is throwing in the towel, and taking it off of the market. While I’m not ready to ditch 2Sky just yet, I have been looking at alternates. I tried the open-source AstroInfo, but it’s not what I’m looking for. It appears to be geared more toward tables of data rather than an interactive and full-featured planetarium.

So far the one that piques my interest is Astromist. There is a free version, and a full version. I’m downloading the free version and will be trying it out over the next few weeks, sidereal by sidereal (so to speak) with 2Sky, and I will report back to you with my feelings about it.

The full version is only $36.00, and it comes in a PalmOS and a Windows Mobile version.