Astronomy Freeware

Bruce Hugo

People often say: "You can't get something for nothing". When it comes to freeware, they are wrong! There are many wonderful free astronomy related programs on the internet. Here are just a few of these programs you can locate, download and use for free!

Stellarium Ver 0.8.1
(16.5MB, runs on hard drive)
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. Documentation for the program is downloadable.

This is an impressive program which renders the night sky in real time with openGL. It is very straightforward to use with toggle buttons along the bottom of the screen. The sky looks very realistic with atmosphere (sky glow) and fog turned on. By clicking on the Nebula button, Stellarium will show you the location of nebulas, clusters and galaxies with their Messier number. In the Controls, you can adjust the Nebula magnitude level and therefore control what is shown as available in the sky. A program well worth giving a test drive.

Celestia Ver 1.4.1
(14MB, runs on hard drive)
Travel the solar system and beyond with this 3D real time interactive space simulator!

Unlike most planetarium software, Celestia doesn't confine you to the surface of the Earth. You can travel throughout our solar system, to any of over 100,000 stars or even beyond the galaxy! A point-and-go interface makes it simple to navigate through the universe to the object you want to visit.

There are Add-ons galore! Everything from current space probes (Voyager for example), high-resolution photos of astronomical objects to fictional additions like the starship Enterprise and Star Wars ships. You can download dozens of easy to install add-ons. Documentation for the program is downloadable to your hard drive.

NASA World Wind Ver1.3.4
(62MB, internet connection required)
World Wind lets you zoom from satellite altitude into any place on Earth. Leveraging Landsat satellite imagery and Shuttle Radar Topography Mission data, World Wind lets you experience Earth terrain in visually rich 3D, just as if you were really there. You can even change the angle of view. It allows you to virtually fly down the Grand Canyon!

Virtually visit any place in the world. Look across the Andes, into the Grand Canyon, over the Alps, or along the African Sahara. Even displays USGS maps!

Along with World Wind, you receive World Wind Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Venus and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey!

World Wind Moon now has the ability to browse Clementine moon data with full 3D terrain. Three data sets are available; Clementine 40xx, Clementine 30xx, and the Shaded Relief map provided by the USGS. All three provide enough detail to see craters within craters! In World Wind, you can also view Mars, Jupiter and Venus in high resolution!

World Wind requires a high-speed internet connection to download the high-resolution imagery. This is a very impressive program!

Google Earth
(13.7MB, internet connection required)
Google Earth combines satellite imagery, maps and the power of Google Search to put the world's geographic information at your fingertips. Travel all over our planet Earth and zoom in on certain areas for ultra high detail or a 3-D effect. It even allows you to look up an address! Google Earth is not a stand-alone program. It requires a high-speed internet connection to download the high-resolution imagery.

Google Earth requirements: OS: Windows 2000, XP, or Mac OS X (10.3.9 +) CPU: 500MHz Free Hard Disk Space: 400 MB System RAM: 128 MB (PC), 256 MB (Mac) Video RAM: 16 MB Screen Resolution: 1024x768, 32-bit color Internet: 128 Kbps ("broadband")

Virtual Moon Atlas Ver3.0
(Light-6.1MB, Basic-8.2MB, Expert-14.2MB, Pro-362MB, runs off hard drive)
A very detailed "everything about the moon" freeware program. The "Pro" version has good detail when zooming in on various areas of the moon. The latest version of Virtual Moon Atlas can control certain "GOTO" telescopes! Some of the features include a large database of information on major craters and formations listing type of formation, geological period, size, description, when to observe, position and origin of the name. It also contains various photos of the area selected.

It is a program that uses a lot of computer resources at the highest settings. Older computers will need to use lower resolution settings. Documentation is only available on the software website.

Conclusion: All of these programs are fun, very informative, and well worth your time to give a try. If you are on dial up, some programs are quite large. It is recommended that you have a friend with a high-speed connection help you by downloading for you. Enjoy!!!

Published in the December 2006 issue of the NightTimes