Despite being mathematically challenged, I’ve always been quite the (amateur) astronomy/astrophysics enthusiast. So imagine my curiosity with all the hype surrounding Microsoft’s upcoming initiative, the WorldWide Telescope. But having recently moved to Linux, I had to find open source alternatives.
And, I’ve found (ok, so finding in this day and age is a tad bit overrated) a couple of really good open source sky mapping programs:
1. Stellarium: This is a planetarium software which means you’ll have a pretty much earth bound perspective of the night sky. Excluding additional plugins or data files, there’s a massive catalogue of over 600,000 stars and a pretty huge number of nebulae as well. The visualization is extremely cool with near realistic depictions of atmospheric conditions and light. For a given point on earth, you can choose how fast time passes, thereby being able to view the night sky in time lapse. I spent close to 4 hours last night trying to figure out the stuff I could do with this brilliant piece of software.
2. Celestia: While Stellarium is the equivalent of gazing at the night sky, Celestia is akin to travelling through space; delivering images of what stars, planets and galaxies would look like up close. The basic program consists of a catalogue of 120,000 stars from the Hipparcos Catalogue. Using key board or mouse controls you can basically travel through the universe (limited by available data) at speeds ranging from 0.001m/s to light years/s. Celestia is a very power and bandwidth hungry software, so I would suggest Stellarium to get a hang of things initially.
Frankly, there’s nothing that puts things into perspective like marveling at the sheer magnitude of the universe and nothing…nothing comes close to the realization that we’re a generation lucky enough to be alive during a time like this; a time when everything seems possible.