Ultimate Sky-Watching tool – Stellarium

June 18, 2011

by yaska77

Aside from the equipment we use to observe and record what we can see in the night sky, there is one indispensable aid we could not do without, and that is the computer planetarium called “Stellarium“.

Easy to use interface helps locate and track objects - Credit: stellarium.org

Enter your coordinates (obtainable using something like whatsmygps.com) and everything you see is relevant to you in REALTIME. Fast forward ahead to see what sights are to come, or rewind to confirm the name of the bright star you saw earlier.

With Zoom get close to single objects or view the whole sky - Credit: stellarium.org

It has a default catalogue of over 600,000 stars, and additional catalogues with more than 210 million stars. Toggle features allow you to display the constellation shapes over the stars (recognised constellations for 12 different cultures), and it also contains images of nebulae from a full Messier catalogue. On top of this there’s a realistic Milky Way and Earth atmosphere, sunrise and sunset, and all other planets and their moons.

Track the planets as they move across the night sky - Credit: stellarium.org

If you’d like to track the ISS too you can turn on the “Satellites” option and search for “ISS”, and Stellarium will take you straight to it, tracking its movement in realtime.  So you can easily use it to see if the ISS is going to pass over, great to allow you time to set up to take photos like these. In fact, these next images illustrate just how useful it is.

Stellarium tracking the ISS on 14th June 2011 (23:06 BST) - Credit: stellarium.org

The ISS (Saturn and Porrima bottom right of centre) 14th June - Credit: Sky-Watching/A.Welbourn

Considering the ISS boosted its orbit twice on the day our photo was taken (climbing to an average height of 382km, 39 km higher than it was at the beginning of June and higher than it has been at any time since 2003), which Stellarium couldn’t have anticipated, it’s still incredibly close!

There are also a whole list of other features and facilities it provides, so it’s great for beginners through to professional astronomers.

So if you love the night sky, and want a handy, user-friendly little program for your PC or laptop, you might consider giving this a try.

Available for Linux, Mac OS X and Windows.


If you want to find your location’s altitude you can look here


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