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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 - Deepsky - Alpha Centaure - The Earth Centered Universe

HF Propagation programs - Ham radio programs

(c) 1992-2004

Cinegram, $40

Redshift

A few years after the release of Redshift 3 that was warmly recommended by all fans of astronomy, the publisher released v4 and v5. They are both famous for their educational fonctions and the 3D rendering pushed to the maximum.

Redshift is first an educative tool coming with numerous movies and narrated tours about astronomy and space exploration. Mainly dedicated to learn astronomy to all curious of the sky, this cheap software will also amaze adults by its performances, its numerous educatives menus and its 3D rendering features pushed to the maximum.

Using many multimedia features Redshift requires QuickTime you can download from the web. If the release 3 ran with ease on a 100 MHz computer releases 4 and 5 request a more powerful system running over 200 MHz with a high resolution display.

As all good educational software, Redshift includes many movies and narrated tours about general astronomy, theories and space exploration. Java applets about specific astronomical concepts are also available by logging in to the publisher. As explained in the planetarium section this also a sky simulator able to display 18 millions stars down to magnitude 20, 15000 asteroids and 1500 comets without to forget 70,000 galaxies and 7000 nebulae. It comes with a sky diary, an updated dictionary, an extended photo gallery and a documentation on-line with hyperlinks. 

At last, Redshift is able to reconstruct any trajectory for any body in space and time between -500 ACN to 9999.

Thanks to its educative side, in my humble opinion this is a product that has to be translated in foreign language to help all teenagers to appreciate all pleasant aspect of astronomy.

Redhsift is also a planetarium software. It can display 18 millions stars up to mag.20 and compute all celestial events between 4713 BC and 9999 AD, its only limitation.

It displays stars according their spectral color, including extracts from Hipparcos and Tycho databases, it provides catalogs of variables stars, open clusters, QSOs, and BL Lacertae, some 15000 asteroids and 1500 comets without to forget 70000 galaxies from the PGC catalog and 7000 nebulae - roughly 3 times more objects than the previous release.

Maps of planets and the Moon have been revised over version 4 and recently moon discovered around Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune have been added. It also provides new topographic features, including locations and landing sites on most planets, display the solar corona, realistic images of comets (with nuclei and tails), and meteor showers. Redhshift can print high resolution sky charts and comes with a sky diary, an new updated dictionary, an extended photo gallery and a documentation on-line with hyperlinks. 

Redshift is now at version 5 and runs on all Windows 32-bit platforms equipped with a SVGA display. A demo is available.

NB. The two first screen dumps are extracted from v5, the two next from v4. A French version is available to Cinegram.

(c) 1994-2002

Manfred Dings, 36 €

Virtual Sky

Manfred Dings developed this interesting product that displays with high accuracy all celestial objects, including all SAO and PPM catalogs, the 18 millions stars from the GSC catalog and 2 millions additional stars from Tycho 2. It includes a quite complete animation module and a high resolution map of the moon surface allowing you to search for a specific crater. There is however no picture associated to this database. In the same idea, if galaxies are displayed as simple ellipses there are no pictures associated and no possibility to display the outline of nebula excepting the Milky Way.

Negative side, stars are all displayed in white without take in account their color index, faint stars which magnitude limit is customizable have to be displayed manually, pan in the sky requests to access a sub-menu and the zoom is also complex to use.

Positive side, settings in the Options menu are numerous up to include the accuracy of the numeric integration (Newcomb or VSOP-method), the pixel size and color of displayed objects, the animation step, the zoom factor and even the horizon if you want to get an accurate simulation of your local landscape. The View menu allow you to define the magnitude limit for stars, DSO, asteroids and comets and the user-defined catalog. All these parameters and a few others can be set by default.Virtual Sky ephemeris are however limited in the past and future between 4712BC and 9999AD.

Among the interesting tools there is an animation module able to display the evolution of various planetaries phenomena from the planetaries heliocentric positions to the aspect of planetaries disks, Jupiter and Saturn moon positions, the sky aspect from any planet, as well as eclipses, the moon libration and the evolution of its crescent without to forget the usually sky simulation, showing the planetaries movment along the days.

The program can load custom catalog in CSV format, create/load history and save your settings for a future analysis. All screens can be printed out in various zoom factor but are black and white. Virtual Sky is now at version 4.2 and runs on all Windows 32-bit platforms with SVGA display.

2002-2012

C.Legrand/P.Chevallery

Freeware

Virtual Moon Atlas

This software is the result of the collaboration between Christian Legrand, a passioned lunar observer, co-author of the guide "Découvrir la Lune" published in French by Bordas and in German by Kosmos under the title "Der Kosmos Mondführer", and Patrick Chevalley, author of "Cartes du Ciel / Sky Charts".

Fully written in Delphi 6, Virtual Moon Atlas, AVL for short, was first published in French but quickly translated in 17 foreign languages, most european, including English, French, Russian and Chinese.

AVL presents the big advantage to be a freeware. It is a must for all fans of Moon exploration or amateur astronomers appreciating high resolution pictures of the Moon.

Plus side, AVL provides a huge pictural database thousands of pictures associated with textures of the Moon surface prepared by JPL, JAXA and other space agencies completed with a full description including physical or geological data about the selected topics. In addition you can download and install historical maps and pictures recorded from Pic-du-Midi and by some advanced amateur astronomers.

AVL takes advantage of accelerator graphic boards supporting OpenGL to display lunar landscapes in 3D. This option can optionally be desactivated if your computer does not support this technology but rather static images in 2D. Among its interesting features, if you are connected to Internet AVL gives you access to online databases on LPI website and accepts custom pictures.

The view can be set in various positions, natural with the north pole up or inverted and mirror as seen through the eyepiece of a telescope. The light intensity, the umbra and resolution can be adjusted as well as the density, color and size of labels.

Resolution of closups depends on the source documents. By default you cannot zoom on the surface as high as you want due to a loss of details. But you can for example download and install the Chang'e pictures that allow you to zoom in some area with a resolution up to 60 meters. 

Minus side, the OpenGL feature is not compatible with the Geological maps but this last option looks more to a gadget than a true tool for the engineer. However, AVL is an excellent product for the amateur who wants to prepare a night session and maybe to prepare the first steps of the future human exploration of the Moon...

AVL can also be interfaced with a telescope (ASCOM interface, encoder, Meade or Goto system) and track the moon on a specific site.

Even running on a recent and fast computer (Intel i7 at 3.5 GHz) with 16 GB of RAM and 4 GB of VRAM on a NVidia GTX770 graphic card you can get "out of memory" errors. For example, when you run multiples memory hungry applications simultaneously like BOINC, MS Office and AVL, and zoom to the maximum in additional catalogs or when selecting a single view with the dynamic view, as many stressing conditions for the system. However such circumstances are not common and the software looks quite stable in a "normal" usage.

AVL is now at version 6.1 and runs on all Windows 32-bit platforms up to Windows 8. It requires a computer running at 300 MHz minimum, and at least 16 MB of VRAM. The basic package needs 200 MB of disk space and takes advantage of the Open GL to display 3D features (if you have no OpenGL capabilities you 'll have to install the "lighht" version). Additional pictural files extracted from Lunar Orbiter, Apollo, Clementine and other Chang'e missions add thousands of pictures and require more than 2.5 GB of additional disk space.

2002, Chris Laurel

Freeware

Celestia

Here is really a wonderful simulation software all the more that it is a freeware.

Celestia is able to simulate the aspect of any object from the solar system (planets, satellites, some asteroids, comets) including several stars and asterisms from any location, from Earth or a remote planet or one of its satellites. The program allows you to add labels, orbits, stars or galaxies to name some features or to modify the pacing, the angle of view as well as the date and time.

Able to simulate any celestial event from eclipses to in situ conjunctions, Celestia is also a wonderful tutorial and didactic support to learn the celestial mechanic and observe alien locations from any point of view.

At last you can capture images or create movies.

Chris Laurel provides also a forum on his website for fans of his product and various planetaries textures at medium or high resolution that each can download through this FTP server.

For programmers, beside the binary package of 11 MB, you can also download the source file (tar.gz). As for Windows version, for UNIX users the LIBPNG can also be used.

Celestia is now at version 1.3.2 and runs on all Windows 32-bit or MacOS X platforms with SVGA display. If you want to use high resolution textures of planets, including Earth and reflections on the ocean your computer will have to use a graphic card with at least 16 MB of memory. The package provides also a low resolution textures version for systems running only 4.5 MB of video memory.

Note that NASA provides also a similar simulator online, although it is less complete : Solar System Simulator.

(c) 1990-1994 

ARC Science Simulations, $50

Dance of the Planets

This application was released in 1994, and thus runs only under DOS. At that time it was the first amateur software able to use rendering to display planets in high resolution when you zoomed in, and real time animations taking into account the effect of gravitation. Due to its quality the product is always available but it looks today more like a "collector item" than a real plus to the collection of the many performing simulators available on the place. But it deserves your attention.

DoP enhanced some of its famous options as the Starship perspective, the Earth and space viewing modes and the tracking mode on target. It is completed by a huge database of comets, asteroids, stars and DSO (see the ordering page on their web).

Among some of its performances you can see the Earth's axial direction precesses or come back and forth in time searching for a peculiar celestial event. DOP is also able to display in high resolution lunar occultation's and solar or lunar eclipses. As all good product, it is also able to compute in a number of ways favorable apparitions of comets and asteroids or minor planets solar transits.

But this program should be incomplete if  I didn't insist on the fact this is a true orbital simulator, calculating the gravitational effects of the various bodies on one another and moving them accordingly, a good way to see orbital resonances or to create orbital experiments with hypothetical bodies.

At last, update files are available from their web for recent (1997) comets, asteroids and Kuiper objects. Current minor planets orbital elements formatted for DoP can also be downloaded from IAU Minor Planet Center.

The development of this very useful program was stopped at version 2.71. It runs under DOS and successfully in a Windows 32-bit DOS box. Currently there is no plan to porting it to Windows. Note that NASA provides also a similar simulator online, although it is less complete named Solar System Simulator.

Note by the way that ARC is specialized in planetary modeling and creates globes of celestial bodies for exhibitions, etc.

(c) 2000-2016 

Alcor Systems, US site, 150-330€

PRiSM

PRiSM is a complete and powerful software, including in this new release a planetarium, an image processing tool and a telescope driver, all this for a low budget. It was selected by several professional observatories worldwide from Pic-du-Midi to MMT and ESO.

Better than some other software listed on this web, settings are very useful; you can for example select the stars size, the magnitude limit according the zoom factor, the screen colors, or to include or not up to 10 stellar catalogs (stars, variables, binaries, photometric, astrometric), 17 DSO catalogs (NGC, IC, PGC, UGC, MGC, ESO, Abell, MRK, AM, Arp, Quasars, PK, SH2, LDN, LBN, VDB, Barnard) including nebula isophots (Milky Way and main nebulae). This huge database is completed by a huge catalog able to display up to 90000 asteroids and hundreds of comets. Like others powerful products, PRiSM is also able to download databases from IAU Minor Planet Center or load pictures from BT-Atlas, Pises Atlas or from RealSky.

Its tools include the display of comets trajectory, dynamic 3D views, the computation of angular separation, it displays the CCD or lens field, animations, ephemeris and more.

The second functionality of PRiSM is the image processing. It allows you to preprocess or postprocess your digital or CCD pictures, including filtering and trichromy functions with sub-pixel alignment, without to forget the standard arithmetical and geometrical operations (addition, substraction, enlargment, mosaic, planisphere, etc). PRiSM also includes photometric and astrometric tools, supporting Tycho, USNO SA1/2 and A1/2 catalogs for calibration purposes.

Last but not least PRiSM can drive some CCD cameras (Audine, FIERA, Hisis, KAF0400, SBIG, MX5, CookBook TC245, Webcams, etc) and telescopes interfaces (Meade, Celestron, Sky Commander, NGC Max, Micro-Guider, Eureka, Ouranos, NGC Max,  and is compliant with Very Large Telescope TCS) including PEC support, MCMT encoders and electrical focusers. Most of these systems request a serial link

PRiSM is now at version 10 and runs on all Windows platforms.

(c) 1998-2004, Distantsuns

$40

 

Distant Suns

Written by Mike Smithwith, this program can display all celestial and solar system objects in high resolution with an idealistic rendering of planetaries surface details up to 24-bit of color depth. In the same way as ARC's Dance of the Planets or MARIS's RedShift it can simulate the aspect of the sky from any place on Earth or in space, from Mercury to Pluto, including comets and asteroids. DS is able to read external stellar catalogs on CD's or deep sky databases.

The planetarium is realistic offering the possibility to display an horizon and various grids (symbols, local or equatorial grid, the celestial equator, the ecliptic, etc). Selecting the expert menu, these markers are completed with other datas, mainly concerning stars (magnitude, b-v index, radial velocity, binaries, variables, etc). However, the binary star symbol is not differenciated from single stars.

The Hover mode, like the "move to" option allows you to get close up views of planets from any position in the solar system. It is also linked to the navigator window. In both planetarium and hover mode you can accelerate time, back and forth, lock your window on an object and search for a peculiar event, a surface feature, conjunctions, etc.

This program is pleasant to use despite its defaults somewhat irritating. Negative side, DS is not very ergonomic and confused. Settings are numerous and lost here and there in various submenus : File, Extra, Tools, Preferences, Expert... The zoom factor for example is not iconized and is also accessible using the aim function or the mouse, left-clicking and dragging to the right or to the left to zoom in or zoom out but its sensitivity is not very accurate. There are several ways to move the windows to the right or left or enlarging an object, none of them being really convenient (right-clicking and moving, navigator window, cardinal bouttons). These are too many choices for such simple functions.

DS can automatically save your current settings. It prints ephemerides, display a moon calendar, the list of meteors showers and eclipses. It can create orbits for new comets and asteroids or create animations. It is completed with megabytes of videos and images. However their excellent rendering cause troubles with displays using more than 256 colors in 24-bit depth. It does not display surfaces rendering or is sometimes in conflict with screensavers. This is a pity as it has been a very interesting product for amateurs. Excepted this error, Distant Suns is now at version 5.3 and runs on all Windows 32-bit platforms.

(c) 1999-2004

S.Tuma & D.Williams

$40-80

Deepsky

This program written by Steven S.Tuma and Dean Williams from DeepSky2000 is much improved over the very early versions. It comes today with 413,000 DSO, the 19+ millions stars from the Hubble Guide Star Catalog, thousands images and orbital elements for many asteroids and comets.

Deepsky comes today with several additional tools, including an Observer planner and spreadsheet, a logbook, star charts, data sheets about the solar system, a night vision mode, and more.

Deepsky is also able to process raw images thanks to an image processing module and includes a remote control panel to drive scopes on stars and planets through a RS-232 port supporting ASCOM drivers (LX200, Ultima, Autostar, etc).

The program is also available on DVD and comes in this version with additional bonus software like Pcoket Deepsky, Cartes Du Ciel, Virtual Moon Atlas, Computer Sky Guide, Variable Star Software and a Fits image viewer.

At last the provider sells two CDs of images (12777 NGC objects, 77000 galaxies, 131 globular clusters) and a data CD including all databases and 900 other images).

 

2000-2003, Astrosurf

Freeware

AlphaCentaure

Rare enough to be noted, this is a French product which can easily be uses by english-spoken persons by installing foreign language plugins.

Using so-called multimedia functions, the only words its says are "connexion established" at first run. More funny is its end generic... à la Lucas film. But this is not for these special effects I tested the product.

The organization of the menus is particularly innovative and the graphical display options very flexible, making the program to raise high inside its category. The negative point is its slowness, particularly with all the design trimmings activated.
The planetarium graphical interface is pleasant to use with a drop-down and scrolling menu at its left.

AlphaCentaure offers the classical representation of the celestial sphere; the situation of the sky over the local horizon; elongations and heliocentric position of the planets and an animation of the sunlit face of the Earth. It also provides an interface to record personal observations.

AlphaCentaure provides main star catalogs, some on CDs (Master Star Catalogue v2, Guide Star Catalogue v1.1, Tycho-2, Washington Double Star Catalogue, General Catalogue of Variable Stars) and common DSO catalogs (NGC, IC, 3C, 4C, Uppsala, Abell Lynd, Catalogue of galaxies behind the Milky Way, Catalogue of HII Regions,

Catalogue of principal Galaxies, Globular Clusters in the Milky Way, Markarian galaxies, Morphological Catalogue of Galaxies, Saguaro Astronomy Club Database

Strasbourg-ESO Catalogue of Galactic Planetary Nebulae).

Although many parameters are easily customizable it lacks of ergonomy. Worst, the Horizon mode, that should be the most intuitive appearance of the sky is poor and stretched when displaying the nigh sky, but pleasant at sun rise and dawn.

This is however an interesting product because he gathers in a few keystrokes a planetarium with progressive apparition of dimmer colored stars according your zoom factor. In parallel it is able to display comets and asteroids positions. 

At last a floating small window can display data and graphs about epehemerides and celestial mechanics including eclipses, conjunctions, seasons, distances, moon phases etc. AlphaCentaure is now at version 1.25 and runs on Windows 32-bit operating systems with SVGA.

(c) 1992-2002

Nova Astronomics, $60

ECU Pro - The Earth Centered Universe

Full written by Canadian amateurs with routines from Jean Meeus, this product is available in English or French. This is a what I call a very good planetarium software for beginners, much better than other low-ends. 

The  software release displays stars in white and is limited to magnitude 10 where DSO reach mag.20 ! Asteroids are unknown and only six comets are included in this version. You are also limited to a spherical projection of the sky and as you fix the limit magnitude at beginning no supplementary faint stars appears when you zoom in. The CD-ROM version is much more completed coming with the Hubble Guide Star Catalog of 15 millions stars, includes the Yale Bright Star catalog of 9100 stars to magnitude 6.5,  the SAO star catalog of 250000 stars and over 10000 DSO's. Deep sky objects are drawn with their correct size, shape, and orientation when this information is included in the database. The CD-ROM version includes also up to 50 comets and asteroids and you can add up to 4000 objects of your own.

Plus side the display is fully customizable, a search engine can find any object in the database and lock on it in AZ/ALT or RA/DEC coordinates. ECU Pro's animation mode allows time increments from 1 minute to four years,  allowing you to move in time to visualize favorable apparition of objects. Optionaly trails of objects display time and labels. Dates entered in ECU Pro are limited between 4713BC and 9999AD for any place on Earth.

Last but not least, ECU Pro is able to drive the mount of any Meade LX200 scope and most models of digital setting circles including Nova Astronomics’ Micro-Guider for which the publisher provides an interface (Micro Guider 5) bundle with ECI Pro.

ECU Pro is now at version 4.0A and runs on Windows 16 and 32-bit platforms with SVGA display.

2000, SAG/René Meader

Freeware

Nuit

A swiss product written by René Meader for beginners. I recommand it if you are looking for a fast and convenient planetarium software able to display what you want in a second. It is simple and easy to use, presenting stars in colors, but has no DSO database. In fact you have to enter each objet manually. However it is sufficient to start a visual observation session equipped with a small scope. 

From the menu you can easily know if a planet is visible and instantaneously display its positions above the horizon. Others options include a mini planetarium allowing you to search for conjunction between planets and Moon or to get a summary of ephemerides.

Nuit is now at version 5.2 and runs on Windows 95,98 or NT with SVGA display.

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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