Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Top ten astronomy software

There are plenty of astronomy softwares and sky simulators that help you to identify and observe astronomical bodies. Some softwares just let you travel around the universe and marvel at the stars and planets as you zoom past them.

The following is a list of some of the best tools and simulators available. Whether you are an avid sky gazer or just someone who occasionally looks up at the night sky in wonder, you will love these softwares. There are two categories of astronomy softwares – Planetarium type that creates sky maps showing positions of stars and planets from any location on earth, and 3D simulators that create a 3D model of the universe which allow you to leave the earth surface and roam around the universe at will.

Planetarium Software

Stellarium: Stellarium is a free open source planetarium for your computer. It shows a realistic sky in 3D, just like what you see with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope. Just set your coordinates and go.

Home Planet: This is another software that creates a mini planetarium on your computer, very similar to Stellerium minus the realism. It also has a satellite tracking tool that shows positions of various satellites in the sky.

3D Simulators

Celestia: The free space simulation that lets you explore our universe in three dimensions. Celestia runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. Unlike most planetarium software, Celestia doesn't confine you to the surface of the Earth. You can travel throughout the solar system, to any of over 100,000 stars, or even beyond the galaxy. Celestia comes with a large catalog of stars, galaxies, planets, moons, asteroids, comets, and spacecraft. If that's not enough, you can download dozens of easy to install add-ons with more objects.

Distant Suns: Distant Suns is one of the premier desktop astronomy packages of all time. For both casual skywatchers to seasoned amateur astronomers, Distant Suns will take you from your home to the outer reaches of the Universe and back With Distant Suns you may view the sky at the time of your birth, watch the sun set behind Saturn, land on Mars and follow newly discovered comets.

Where is M13?: Where is M13? is a unique application that helps you visualize the locations and physical properties of deep sky objects in and around the Galaxy. Where is M13? serves as a reference you will frequently turn to when you read about an object and become curious where it is with respect to our galaxy. In the field, the program will enhance your observing experience by allowing you to get an intuitive sense of the physical location, size, luminosity, and distance of the object you are viewing.

Planet engine: Planet engine is a 3D real-time planet renderer. It allows you to fly over the surface of planets and also to see them from space. You can explore real planets - like Mars and Earth - or use imaginary data. Unlike other 3D simulators Planet engine has realistic texture of planet surfaces and can render terrains and atmospheric haze and fog very realistically.

OpenUniverse: OpenUniverse is a piece of software, simulating the Solar System's bodies in 3D on your Windows or Linux PC (will work in most *NIX's as well). In difference to quite a few other programs it does so in realtime. Meaning you can view all the planets, moons and spaceships move along their paths, trace them, follow them, orbit them and even control them (time and spaceship contol).

WinStars: WinStars uses the latest 3D technology to show the objects of our solar system in a realistic manner. Thus, it is possible to move from one planet to another, to follow a space probe on its long voyage or to observe a celestial event from a place to which you could never go.

ORBITER: ORBITER is a free flight simulator that goes beyond the confines of Earth's atmosphere. Launch the Space Shuttle from Kennedy Space Center to deploy a satellite, rendezvous with the International Space Station or take the futuristic Delta-glider for a tour through the solar system - the choice is yours.
But make no mistake - ORBITER is not a space shooter, which most of the softwares mentioned above are. The emphasis is firmly on realism, and the learning curve can be steep.

AstroGrav: AstroGrav is an astronomy software program that allows you to simulate how astronomical objects move and interact under the force of gravity. It features superb interactive 3D graphics which allow you to move around within a many-body astronomical system, while watching how it evolves with the passage of time.


  1. Your readers may like to know that if they already have Google Earth (the latest version) that they can press the last button on the right in the top toolbar, it switches between Google Earth and Google Sky! Google Sky is a very detailed astronomy resource with just about everything you can think of including detailed images from the Hubble space telescope, satelite positions, even exo-planets!

  2. And what about MPL3D Solar System? I think it is worth a look. Nevertheless, great compilation here!

  3. Asynx Planetarium ?


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