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 PLANETARIUM CALCULATORS  -  IMAGING

Desktop Universe - TheSkyStarry Night Pro - Starry Night Enthusiast - The Guide

Skymap Pro - SkyCharts / Cartes du ciel - Hallo Northern Sky - ExInEd - Redshift

Virtual Sky - Celestia - Virtual Moon Atlas - Dance of the Planets - PRiSM - Nuit

 Distant Suns - Deep Sky 2000 - Alpha Centaure - The Earth Centered Universe

HF Propagation programs - Ham, DSP and satellite tracking software

(c) 2003, $200

Via Anacortes

Desktop Universe

This application has to be installed on a fast computer using a great amount of memory (at least 1 GHz CPU and 500 MB RAM minimum).

The menu is rich of tens of icons to access rapidly to all main functions. Clicking on any object with the mouse, contextual data can be displayed too.

Contrarily to other planetarium programs, once loaded the starry field looks really unusual. Instead of displaying a schematic map of the sky, the screen is now replaced with a realist photomosaic of the Milky Way as you could see one on high-resolution color photographs. Images were recorded with an Apogee AP9e CCD at a resolution of 12 arcseconds per pixel or 90000 pixels per square degree, an excellent resolution that not all advanced astrophotographers can reach. The brightness of the image can be adjusted, like if you changed your screen luminance with the control button to enhance the appearance of nebulae in the background.

Taking in consideration the whole sky, DU is able to display 10 millions stars to magnitude 14 and about 1 million DSOs from the PGC catalog including all Messier and Dreyer (NGC) objects, quasi on par with its competitor. Version 1.52 includes astero´ds and comets catalogs but artificial satellites are not considered yet.

Zooming on various celestial objects, from the 180░ to 0.5░ wide, at some steps one see the limitations of the product (stars become fuzzy) but most images display an excellent resolution. The narrowest view shows the elliptic shape of most galaxies and planetaries phases. The Moon is also displayed with a good rendering thanks to Clementine data. But here also the realism is perfectible.

The program will surely also interest the casual observer fan of beautiful pictures of the sky and the younger who does not make yet the difference between a galaxy and a nebula, between a globular and an open cluster or between an emission and a reflection nebula. Up to now no other software reaches this image quality. DU displays all DSOs larger than 5 to 10 arc-minutes in true color with detailed outlines conforming to their shape, which positions were refined by Harold Corwin of the NGC/IC Project using the Digitized Sky Survey. Optionaly you can print these layouts in high resolution.

DU is also able to drive any ASCOM compliant telescope (all GOTOs) easier and seems more robust than its competitors. It is integrated with Diffraction Limited's MaxIm DL imaging processing software, MaxPoint telescope pointing software and is compatible with Astronomer's Control Panel automation and Internet observing software.

Desktop Universe is now at version 1.52. It requests a fast computer, the "smallest" configuration being a 1 GHz CPU with 256 MB RAM, 1 GB of free disk space, and SVGA or higher display. It runs of all 32-bit platforms. Due to its size the program cannot be downloaded but demos are available. It is supplied on two CD-ROMs. The program does not run on Mac OS, excepted under SoftWindows and Virtual PC at a lower speed.

I give it four stars only due to its hardware requirement, and in waiting the inclusion of new catalogs, a greater zoom and a better planetary rendering.

This program is no more available.

(c) 1984-2011

Software Bisque, $99-$349

TheSky

First released in 1992 by Thomas M.Bisque, with time this famous program became a reference product, on par with Starry Night Pro and a few others. As its challengers, the latest version, TheSky6 Pro Edition, includes all you think about to prepare a serious observation session, visually or driving automatically your scope at a key depress. 

This latest release includes Hipparcos and Tycho stellar databases including b-v indexes, the 19 millions objects from the Hubble Guide Star Catalog to magnitude 15, the 73,197 galaxies from the Catalog of Principal Galaxies (PGC) which shows their minor and major axis and orientation plus all NGC/IC and Messier objects and at last 13,000 thumbnail pictures. Of course it can load external catalogs on CD-ROM as the USNO A2.0 database with 526,280,881 supplementary stars or its equivalent on the web in the case of the millions objects displayed should not be enough ! 

Improvement side, the stars are optionally displayed in color for those stars that contain the spectral information, the brightness and the  intensity of the colors for the spectral types are also user definable. The stars plotted magnitudes are scaled according to the zoom level. The daytime sky mode is pleasant to view, the moon phase calendar and its appearance have been improved too as the object information dialog box, the Dreyer descriptions for all NGC and IC objects, the astronomy tutorial, to name a few.

Last but not least, on robotic side the program is able to drive any telescope including the Nexstar5 with Autostar and offers the ability to display the field of view of the ST-4X guiding CCD detector as many finders.

TheSky6 Pro version adds $150 extra over the Advanced version because it can be interfaced with other Bisque programs like CCDSoft  (whereas Advanced version does work with Tpoint) providing automated scripting, astrometry measurements, telescope pointing analysis and till more, and it comes with many additional databases not included in the Advanced version. As its competitors, update files can be download from the publisher website.

Compared to the previous version 5 (two last screen dumps), TheSky6 (two upper screendumps) is a major improvement, displaying the starry night with still more realistics images, approaching the one of Desktop Universe. All settings can be configured to suit to your needs (star color, diameter, foreground, lines, labels, colors, etc).

TheSky is only available for PC but in several versions : Student, Serious Astronomer and Professional editions. It is available in English while a german version 6 is available to Intercon Spacetec.

The latest version TheSky Pro 6 runs on all 32-bit platforms, and requires a 500 MHz (1 GHz recommended) or faster processor, a minimum of 256 MB of RAM, between 200 MB to 3 GB of disk space, and a 1024x768 pixels monitor.

Today at version TheSky X Professional has been redesigned from the ground up, and includes numbers of new exciting features (Eclipse Viewer, Conjunction Finder, 3D Solar System View, Field of View indicators (FOVIs), etc)

Software Bisque provides support to customers via their Community forum and their Knowledge base. Unfortunately, if you don't find any answer online, they will ask you $100 per incident, 30 to 50 % of the product price ! It is the first time that I see a company providing software to amateurs that charges for their support. This price is not justified and prohibitive !

(c) 1991-2011

Siennasoft, $40-$240

Starry Night Pro

I warmly recommend you this program, not only for its graphical performances to render the sky, celestial objects and the horizon in a realistic way (it can edit the horizon to add trees and create hills or load a picture) but mainly because this is a huge package including all options an advanced amateur astronomer is in right to wait for.

As said Sienna this is for serious astronomy... but funny one too. It comes with the complete Hipparcos/Tycho stellar database and its 16 millions stars with b-v indexes, over 19 million objects from the Hubble Guide Star Catalog to magnitude 15 and includes the 73,197 galaxies from the Catalog of Principal Galaxies (PGC) which shows their minor and major axis and orientation, Tully database with its 3D positions of 28,000 galaxies, and of course last but not least all NGC/IC and Messier objects. To complete these options a custom image layer help you to add external CCD images or digitized photographs.

You can also fix the limit magnitude for each catalog separately and easily select any object to determine its rise, transit and set times, magnitude and position in several coordinates systems.

Starry Night Pro is also an educational tool requiring QuickTime to display multimedia features as movies of sky animations, planets flybys, liftoff's and more. Among its most amazing tools you may quit the solar system and observe the nearby stars in 3D, travel anywhere in the universe up to 700 millions light-years, display dynamic Hertzsprung-Russell diagrams, create alien planets with customizable surfaces details and satellites, add custom horizon panoramas, edit orbits to add or modify planetaries objets.

If you like historical simulations, you can go 99,999 years in the past or in the future, speeding up or slowing down time.

The Internet links are everywhere present; connecting to LiveSky you can for example display information about planets, stars or constellations or download DSO pictures connecting to the Digitized Sky Survey database. 

Starry Night Pro is able to create artificial satellites reading their 2 line elements (Keplerian elements) or to track them. In the same way it is able to track comets and asteroids. 

At last the program is able ASCOM compliant and able to drive any telescope but its controller looks to light and display weakness to consider it as a serious tool. On-line support is fast and update release can be downloaded from the publisher website.

Starry Night is available for Mac and PC computers and runs on all 32-bit platforms. It is available in two versions, Pro and Pro Plus. 

According to Siennasoft, the Starry Night Pro 6 version requires a 500 MHz or faster processor, 128 MB RAM and 2 GB of hard disk space. But in the field, we noted that Starry Night Pro 6 didn't run on a 566 MHz PC as it was unable to find in the video card the features that it wanted. Version Starry Night Pro Plus 6, the most complete, requires a 800 MHz or faster processor, 256 MB RAM (512 MB recommended) and 5 GB (11 GB needed for full install) of hard disk space. For both versions, a fast video board is required as OpenGL support requires a 64 MB (128 MB recommended) OpenGL 1.4 capable graphics card (OpenGL 2.0 is required for features like shaded sky, animated grass and fast AllSky rendering at wide FOV). Minimum recommended monitor resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels. DVD-ROM drive required for installation.

Good news, contrary to its main competitor, all users and prospects can question their support team free of charge.

Sky over Babylon (Sumer) on Feb 1, 100 AD at 22h

(c) 1991-2014

Siennasoft, $80

Starry Night Enthusiast

This package is voluntary lighter than the Pro version. It replaces the old "Starry Night Backyard" version and comes with a totally redesigned GUI much more attracting and faster.

This version is created for the casual observer or the one who doesn't use a telescope with tracking capabilities. It takes advantage of the same engine that the Pro version, the same intuitive interface with multimedia features that require QuickTime. It is able to display a variable sky brightening including light pollution and details in the Milky way.

This version gathers all you need to learn astronomy. All the planets and most moons are displayed with high resolution surface rendering and you have the ability to add new objects (comets, asteroids, moons, planets and even satellites) using the built-in orbit editor or to change surface map of planets.

Like the Pro version, this version is able to manage artificial satellites reading their 2 line elements (Keplerian elements).

Only constraints, this light version has at its disposal a reduced number of stellar and deep sky objects : 2.5 million stellar objects and 40,000 DSO. You are also limited in travel in time between - 4713 and +9999 and you cannot select a custom horizon panorama.

Contrary to the previous Backyard version, this new version has built-in background landscapes. It can print advanced sky charts showing deep star fields and DSO. The Enthusiast can link out to LiveSky for the most up-to-date information about them. Here also all update release notes can be downloaded from the publisher website.

Starry Night Enthusiast is now at version 6.0 and runs on all Windows 32-bit (it was designed for XP first) and MacOS platforms using a 500 MHz or faster processor, 128 MB RAM and 900 MB of hard disk space. On slow computers the OpenGL will not initiate and some optional features will not be displayed on screen

A trial version is available from Starry Night Store. A trial version of "Starry Night Backyard" is available from Download.com

Good news, all users and prospects can question their support team for free.

(c) 1999-2016

Project Pluto, $40-45

The Guide

This low-cost desktop planetarium program is an excellent software, a true challenger for its competitors. 

The Guide is able to display a view of the sky full customizable, including the horizon and objects fixed on it. You can also fix the limit magnitude for each catalog separately and generate charts from 180░ to 2 arcminutes wide. Among the most amazing catalog available, the Guide reads the RealSky CD's or the Digitized Sky Survey for DSO and the Clementine Moon database providing stunning high resolution pictures of lunar formations (CD-ROM Vol.15 from NSSDC provides a resolution up to 0.5 km/pixel, CD's 1-14 up to 100m/pixel). 

In addition you can switch between the default display mode showing the north at the top and west at the right to an inverted view similar to the one you see once the eye at the eyepiece.

The accuracy of the Guide is similar to other quality products, computing for example planetaries positions to about 0.01" using the VSOP and PS1996 theories. In the same way, it computes the Moon position using the ELP theory and Lieske's E2x3 theory for the satellites of Jupiter. In its details, the Guide displays the shadow cast by satellites on their planet, isophotes of nebula, eclipse path, stars occultations by asteroids and other transits in full details. Regularly updated, upgrades can be downloaded from the publisher website

The Guide is now at version 9 and runs on all Windows and Mac OS/X platforms

(c) 1986-2000

Chris A. Marriott, $99

Skymap Pro

In my humble opinion, this program has been at a few steps to become a reference if its realism and refresh should have been better. In an unrealistic way if you zoom in for example to approach of your target sometimes no more stars and objects appear. Or if you zoom out fainter stars continue to be visible. You have to add or suppress dim stars manually by clicking a button. Stars are all white displaying a large white surface without much differentiation of their brightness. Positive side, clicking on any star or object Skymap Pro displays information like its magnitude, size, some astrometric and photometric data plus some catalog references. A barred filled dot symbolises multiple stars and a barred empty dot the variables. 

Excepting this curious way to display stars Skymap Pro is really complete up to include a remote telescope controller called Autotrack (not tested).

The planetarium screen is ergonomic, the left and upper task bars displaying icons to quickly access to various functions. The display is customizable, from the colors of all components to the inclusion or not of various grids and toolbars.

Skymap Pro display ephemerides between 4000BC and 8000AD. It accesses to various external catalogs listing multiples stars, asteroids, comets and DSO, locally stored on CD-ROM's (stellar databases or images, including in FITS format) or from external sources like the DSS website.

The Planning and Tools menus are short but will help you to find the moon phase, calculate the canon of eclipses, daily events and edit an observation log. Among the tools available the Search menu allows you to quick find any celestial objet knowing its name, not necessary the constellation, its bayer letter or its propre name. Among the objects to insert you can project the true field of  your best finder (Telrad) or eyepiece on the celestial sphere. You can also insert text, line, circle or even a camera frame but their size has to be fixed before displaying.

Skymap Pro can read Two Line Elements files (TLE) to display trajectories of artificial satellites in front of the starry night (do not confuse with SkyMap 6.4 from Rod Matson dedicated to satellites tracking).

If most of bugs from the previous release came from the video driver, the new version solved those problems. Skymap Pro is now at version 8.0 and runs fine at the resolution of 1024x768 pixels and 64k colors on Windows 95/98/ME/NT 4 or 2000 but requests only a 133 MHz Pentium, a SVGA display and 32 MB RAM. 

NB. The third screen dump was extracted from the release 6 for comparison purposes.

1998-1999

Astrosurf, Freeware

SkyCharts - Cartes du ciel

This is the first swiss product I know written in french but able to easily switch to... 20 other languages including Catalan ! An excellent job from Patrick Chevalley.

SkyCharts - Cartes du ciel -  is easy to use and quite complete. Its advantage is to be colorful, displaying true color of stars and objects. Stars brightness and aspect can be customized.

The menu is ergonomic displaying a serie of icons on the upper and left side of the screen to access functions. By clicking any object the program displays a short or an extended legend (its name, type, magnitude, size, b-v index, etc). You can easily find an object by its name, its coordinates or pointing quickly an area on a star chart.

It includes various catalogs compiled in short versions for convenience and use by default the 9096 stars up to mag 6.5 from the Bright Star Catalog, Sky2000 Master, NGC objects and 10000 nebulae from SAC 7.2. It lists 107 comets, 40 asteroids and can manage the General variable stars catalog and the Washington Double star catalog too. You can also access external databases on CD's or on the Internet like Tycho, GSC, USNO-A, Lynds, 3C, PGC, RealSky, ESO Skycat DSS2, Lowell Comet and Astorb catalogs, etc. The latest release includes the location of Iridium flashes and of course the trajectories of hundreds of artificials satellites.

A complete on-line help explain the reasons of selecting such or such catalog and provide links too as for example to HEARSARC SkyView to dowload a sky image corresponding to the current chart. A similar option is available to display galaxies, loading their images from CD's (DSS or IRAS) or the Internet in order to merge them in the current chart.

The rendering of galaxies surface is pleasant. Better than simply displaying an empty shape, SkyCharts uses the Third Reference Catalog of Bright Galaxies to displays an orange-yellow to greyscale surface according the brightness of the DSO and its nucleus. 

Sky Chart is able to display proper motion of stars in 9999 years and display the sky until year 3000. You can save your configuration, print charts or merge images of various format on your sky charts too.

At last it includes a plug-in for Meade telescopes. The interface can be used with LX200, Autostar, Magellan I/II and other systems using the LX200 protocol.

Due to all these options and the fact it is a freeware, I give it one more star that what I expected from this program. SkyCharts is now at version 2.71 and runs on Windows 32-bit but not as fast as its competitors. A complete html help file is provided.

1998-2000

Han Kleijn, Freeware

Hallo Northern Sky

I appreciate first this software for its ergonomy, the ease to change parameters and for the display of the target parameters in the upper left of the screen. Positive side while you zoom in more faint stars appear, not always well differenciated, but this is a performance to highlight as it is not always programmed in freeware products. At any moment you can bolden the star appearance and reduce or extend the limit magnitude. Couterpoint when zoom out, all faint stars continue to be displayed, whitening your screen. You have to reset the limit magnitude to get a more realistic sky.

DSO are listed not as empty shapes but are filled, presenting a grey surface a bit similar to the Catalog of Principal Galaxies to simulate their appearance at the eyepiece; an excellent initiative usually available on high-end products and loading expensives CD's.

Better than other freeware, Hallo provides a Search tool to find planets or their satellites, stars, constellations, DSO (Messier, IC and NGC) but also a hundred comets and so many asteroids. As for many small programs, 433 Eros although of magnitude 12 is not listed. The zoom is also powerful. You select an area with a right-clic of the mouse to center it and you zoom by clicking on the IN or OUT menu. Double stars have not been forgotten and the double-double epsilon Lyrae-1 appears well when the true field decreases below around 18' and magnitude below 8.

There also two very useful tools. First the fact you can move around the sky using the arrows. Even displaying all objects the refresh is very fast. The second tool is the accelerated motion which is available using F-keys. Very useful to find a conjunction or the accurate position of an asteroid for example among stars.

Hallo is now at version 2.04 and runs fine on Windows 32-bit platforms in high resolution, better than some high-end products.

1996, ExInEd, Freeware

Exploration in Education

These are educational electronic publications produced by a dedicated team of the Special Studies Office at the Space Telescope Science Institute. Their objective is to increase the educational value of space exploration. 

Products available cover all kind of subjects, from the space exploration (Apollo11, Magellan-Venus, Mars,...) to Earth study (Hawaiian volcanism, teledetection,...) or deal with pure astrophysical matters (Cepheids,  results of GHRS, etc).

Require installing a WinPlus runtime to read Stack files (.STA). 

ExInEd runs on Windows and MacOS platforms.

NOTE: Due to the JPEG compression, colors of screen dumps are poorly rendered and do not pay tribute to the work of their authors...

Software reviews are also available on the following websites :

ASTROSURF  -  DMOZ  -  SKY & TELESCOPE  -  STELLARIUM (free software)

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