November 13, 2003

The next best thing to being there

Today, we have ways of observing the skies that previous generations of astronomers couldn't even conceive of. Software and computer generated star maps have reached the point where the simulations are almost as good as actually getting outside with a telescope.

Two popular titles are Starry Night and Redshift.

Starry Night lets you plan your sky observations, pointing out selected items of interest and printing out simple maps that will let you locate them in the heavens. The price ranges from about $25 up to about $150, depending on the version you buy. I've never used it, but have heard good things about it from those who have.

Redshift is another virtual planetarium. The latest version sells for around $100. Once again, I haven't used this one, but it's been recommended to me by people I trust.

A neat feature of both of these titles is the ability to go backwards and forwards in time to view the sky, so if you missed the last eclipse because of clouds (as seen from the moon), you can catch it on screen.

This next one isn't quite the same as the other two. Celestia is a 3D Space Simulator that you have to see to believe, and best of all, it's free! There are continuing updates to the software and extra libraries to add destinations like satellites and probes. It also has a guided tour and teaching mode. I've played around with this one for a year now, and it's fun, versatile and addictive. There is a version available for the Mac too.

Posted by Ted at November 13, 2003 08:29 AM
Category: SciTech
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