The Final Frontier: Open Source Alternatives


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.



6 Responses to “The Final Frontier: Open Source Alternatives”

  1. Dude, this post is spooky. This morning I read about Google releasing their astronomy software, Google Sky, and now your post.

    Here’s a link to the WSJ story.


  2. Here’s a tinyurl version of the WSJ story:

  3. 3 Swen

    Will be installing this ..

  4. I never was that interested in space. I know the moon when I see it. I look at the stars every once in a while and I even recognize Orion’s Belt (or I think I do). I read Stephen Hawking. I asked myself why stars in the southern hemisphere look further away than in the northern. I never researched the answer because in the end, I’m an “earth-woman”: I like to see what’s going on around me.

    But the programs look really cool. If I was intersted, I would install them 🙂

  5. cool ! punns writing on movies & linux !

  6. @bpsk: Somehow Google Sky seems a bit limited, doesn’t it? I do want to try out MS’s WWT though… Thanks for the links.

    @Swen: Don’t! First music…then films. I will not let you become me!! 🙂

    @kalafudra: Um…yes. Wonder why you even read Hawking in the first place. The best place to start on matters such as these is always Carl Sagan IMO.

    @Johnny: It’s like you writing about movies huh? 🙂

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