Feb 212017

KStars is a an open source freeware planetarium program from KDE, the linux platform group. KStars is available for Windows, requires the Microsoft Visual C++ 2015 Redistributable to run on PCs and it will automatically download it if it is not installed.

The program features 100 million stars, 13,000 deep-sky objects and thousands of comets, asteroids, satellites and other sky object in its catalogue. Objects can be added manually or via other downloaded add-ons (see the Data menu).

As with other similar programs choosing a location is the first task after running the program. The program can import and use .fits images for detailed imagery. Moving the mouse object names are displayed as tool tips and right clicking on any provides a wealth of information about the object including viewing images and the option of adding it to a wishlist for observing.

The program window can of course toggle on and off display of horizon, stars, deeps sky objects, planets, milky way, equatorial grid, constellation lines, names and art and also supernovae and satellite positions.

Besides viewing the sky from any location one can also chose a time to view the sky, choose any set time or move in steps to the past or the future. The passage of time can also be sped up to view the changing sky faster. The Pointing menu can change the view based on which direction the viewer is looking at and also center on an object and keep tracking it.

The Tools that come with KStars are really useful for both the amateur sky watcher – with an ‘auto suggest’ tool in the works – and the professional. The calculator provides a lot of information such as object positions, coordinates and radial velocities, Julian dates and sun and moon rise and set times. The Observation planner displays information based on a chosen object, a list can be created and saved for any upcoming sky viewing. The planner includes a ‘What’s up tonight’ tool and the objects added to the wish list can be viewed here. The Sky calendar displays or plots planets’ tracks in the sky.

The program also supports interfacing – using INDI and KDE’s own Ekos platforms – with telescopes to drive the viewer to an object and capture images.

A KStar handbook is accessible from the help menu that provides a wealth of info on every feature available.

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Feb 172017

Hallo Northern Sky is an educational, fun and fascinating planetarium program for windows and linux machines. It features around 30,000 objects and many more stars in its catalogue and can find any of them, provide descriptions and high resolution pictures with planets ones showing surface features. It can retrieve updated information online for more objects such as asteroids and comets too.

The first action after installing the program is to save a location, the program prompts the user to do so on first start or if there is no location saved. The only input type requires the user to know his/her location’s longitude and latitude (as opposed to a program like Stellarium that can set a user location by name). The program settings is where one can download or update the aforementioned additional or newer lists and images. Within the same settings (File —>Settings) the program interface can be tweaked to use bigger fonts, different fonts (instead of the default Comic Sans) and different colors. The Settings tab of the Settings (!) has options to change local file settings, use different equinox epochs and make corrections for atmospheric effects.

The program has multiple editors to load or edit astronomical data including images (.fits) files and asteroid and comet databases manually. The Search menu loads object (planets, moons, deep space objects, stars, constellations) names and can center on an object’s location. Supplementary or extra databases can be downloaded from the developer site and searched as well. These include additional galaxies and stars. The Objects menu is like loading specific supplements or databases and acts as a filter to view certain objects, for example to filter magnitude or use other deep sky maps that show farther objects. The Date menu can show the sky as it looks 1 hour from now, 1 day from now, tonight or any date.

Moving the mouse on the program window and left clicking on an object provides information about it on the upper left side of the window. Name, brightness, right ascension, declination, magnitude and more is given. Right clicking offers more like centering on the object, downloading images of an object and if no object is selected using one of online resources to search that chosen area of the sky. The Animation option (Screen —>Animation) lets the user visualize movements in time increments and follow planets or star movements.

Use the mouse wheel to zoom in and out or Ctrl+R for the aforementioned animation. The program has many hot keys built in. The extensive help file on the same page has lots more info.

Information can be copied to the clipboard when it is displayed on the status bar, just left click on the status bar to copy information about the clicked on area. ASCOM is supported, Hallo Northern Sky can interface with compatible telescopes and direct them to point to objects.

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