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Found In: Science, 6-8, 9-12

Stellarium is free software that lets you turn a computer into a planetarium. You see on a computer screen or white board what you can see with your eyes, binoculars, or small telescope. Stellarium calculates the positions of the Sun and Moon, planets and stars, and draws how the sky as it would look to an observer at given locations and times. It also draws constellations and simulates meteor showers and solar or lunar eclipses. Stellarium includes star lore and constellations and constellation for 12 cultures.

Downloads are available for:

  • Linux,
  • Mac OS X, and
  • Windows.

The latest version of Stellarium (0.11.2) has a default catalogue of more than 600,000 stars. Extra catalogues provide more than 210 million stars. It highlights constellations and asterisms (star patterns not constellations) and provides images of nebulae (a full Messier catalogue), a realistic Milky Way, and the planets and their satellites.

User controls pop up on the left and bottom of the screen. Locations can be determined with a limited menu of locations or specifically by latitude and longitude. Users can also time and zoom. The software allows for a fisheye projection for planetarium domes or a spheric mirror projection for a low-cost dome.

The User’s Guide (PDF icon PDF, 1.4 MB, 98 pgs.) is good place to begin to understand what Stellarium can do. For those who like to jump in, that works too. The site includes a Stellarium Wiki, where users maintain information about the program and contribute. The Wiki includes a Quickstart Guide and FAQ.



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Lessons & Activities

Watching the Summer Night Sky

By Phil Nast, for

Now that summer is approaching, brush up your stargazing skills and get ready to enjoy humankind's first TV, the night sky. These lessons, activities, and resources will help you locate and identify celestial objects with equipment as basic as your own eyes.