Thursday, August 9, 2007

A Planetarium on your Desktop

Have you ever stood outside on a cold, clear night, looking at the stars?

If you can get out into the country, away from city lights, you can see thousands of stars...and once in a while, the quick streak of a meteor.

There's no denying the beauty of the night skies. When you look at the stars, you are looking at the last, greatest unexplored frontier, a frontier into which Mankind has taken its most halting baby steps. Moon landings and probes sent skittering through the solar system, out into the Oort Cloud...and in a few hundred years, who knows where we will have traveled to?

Men and women have been gazing at the stars since time began. There are those who misguidedly believe that the stars influence our lives: these are the kind of people who take horoscopes seriously and who really care whether you're a Libra or a Sagittarius. Where I come from, we call them "nuts." But anyone with a speck of imagination will look at the skies and see the ghostly patterns formed by the stars.

These patterns - constellations - all have names, names that are unique to each human culture. And now you can look at the skies and see all of those constellations and planets without leaving your house.

Check out Stellarium, a wonderful open-source computer program that turns your computer into a planetarium! You can download it at no charge: just click on the link. Once you've downloaded and installed the program (ask your parents for permission first, before installing any software), it will show the skies in real time. All you have to do is tell it where you are, and it will display the a picture of the sky, day or night. Just drag with your mouse to look in any direction...and you can zoom in to look at planets and nebulae more closely. Click on any star, planet, or galaxy, and detailed information will appear at the top left corner of your screen.

[Click on image to expand.]

Thanks to Joan of Argghh! for the link!

1 comment:

Joan of Argghh! said...

This link is still a favorite, as well.