Free Astronomy Software and Related Downloads
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So you need a planetarium program or star charts? How about moon maps? I found these free programs that you might want to check out. The commercial software may have better graphics and more bells and whistles but I prefer to stick with the basics. Besides, why buy when you are just starting out and not sure what you need.
First Get Your Computer In Shape
The first two programs are to clean up the mess surfing the web can cause. If you are not running a spy-bot program you definitely need one or both of these. It will speed up your web time and maybe solve some glitches you have been experiencing.
Spy-Bot Search and Destroy - You got to love the name of the program.
Ad-Aware - Similar to above. I run them both and they sometimes find different things.
Spyware Blaster - This is an even cooler program than those just listed. You never see this running. It blocks the majority of spyware before it ever even gets on your computer.
AVG - This is a free home anti-virus program that I think works better than the big name products you have to pay to use. Other anti-virus programs I have used caused me more problems than I was having with the viruses. Seldom do you even notice this program is running.
Google Tool Bar - have the search engine right on your screen the whole time you are on the web. In addition there is a pop-up window blocker that works sooo good.
Star Downloader - This has nothing to do with stars. It is a program designed to speed up and offer control of downloads on the Internet. Took a little time to figure out how to use this program but it was worth it. Get this program first. It will speed up the time it takes to download the rest of the programs.
FTP Commander - For uploading and downloading files from the Internet.
Major Geeks - Ok, this is a website where you can get most of the stuff just mentioned. Major Geeks helps you get the most out of your computer mainly by offering tools to the beginner or advanced user.
The Must Have List
Virtual Moon Atlas - The wow factor on this program is very high. This is a must have download for the new astronomer. It comes in several versions. Unless you are certain your video card supports 3D and open GL stick with the lite version. I downloaded the Basic version (over 7 megs of download!) but it did not seem to work poperly on my computer. My computer uses integrated graphics. Apparently the program needs more video power than my computer supports. Doesn't matter the lite version is excellent.
StarCalc - Fun and easy to use. From Russia with love. Free for the home PC. Available for your pocket PC at a reasonable price. Lot's of free add-on catalogs. I like this program because it locates objects by Alt-Az as well as RA, DEC. I also like it because it looks more like a star map than an actual view of the sky. Similar to what a planisphere shows. The main thing I like is that you can mirror the sky map so East is on the left side of the screen. Most programs work too much like a planisphere where East is on the right. You have to put it over your head to use it. My monitor is too big for that!
TUMOL - The Ultimate Messier Object Log. Lists a 110 deep space objects (DSO) known as the Messier catalog. Gives a basic description of each DSO and with the included star maps helps locate them. Print the pages out and put them in a notebook to take in the field with you. Lists objects by constellation, season, and viewing order during a marathon. There are some other free programs here you might like as well.
Clear Sky Clock - It's an attempt to show at a glance when, in the next 48 hours, we might expect clear and dark skies for one of many observing sites. You can choose a clock for your area and place the html for the clock on your webpage. Pretty cool.
Double-Sided Planisphere - Stars to mag 4.5. A planisphere of similar design is sold commercially as "The Night Sky" by David Chandler. This one is free!
Taki's 6.5 Magnitude Star Atlas - The only downside to these charts is you need to be able to print on A3 size paper, about 12"x17". (W/ over 500 DSO's)
The Mag 7 Star Atlas - This project is a free downloadable set of high-quality star charts capable of being printed at reasonable resolutions on the average home printer. (W/ 550 DSO's)
Taki's 8.5 Magnitude Star Atlas - More detailed than Star Atlas 2000 and this one is free! (W/ over 2900 DSO's)
Or You May Prefer These
Cartes du Ciel Sky Charts - Listed by many as the ultimate free amateur astronomy program. Tons of related catalogs to download and use. Base program is in English and French - many different language add-ons available. The learning curve was a little high for me. I think I finally have it set up the way I like it - which basically means it looks like Star Calc only a little prettier, but Star Calc is still way easier to use.
Home Planet - Offers a world map showing areas of day and night as well as location and phase of the Moon. Also has a sky map with a telescope zoom window. If you could mirror the sky map I would love this program.
Distant Suns - It offers a horizon view of the sky as if standing outside looking at it. Not sure how to better describe it.
WinStars - French author offers this horizon view program.
Sky Maps - While not a downloadable program this site does offer free sky maps each month
Hope you found something you can use here. If so send me a note. If you find an indispensable free program for the beginner share it with me and I may add it to the list. Please report dead links.
Copyright © 2004 by Kevin Sluder
All rights reserved
Latest revision March 2013