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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Astronomy Freeware

Since continually upgrading (or downgrading) operating systems have left some of the early and excellent astronomy programs coughing in the dust, it is nice to occasionally stumble upon a good, simple and functional planetarium program which actually runs on Vista or Windows 7.

This is Night Vision 2.2 from NVastro. Night Vision runs entirely in Java, so it doesn't matter what operating system you use. It is very reminiscent of the old DOS SkyGlobe; very stripped down, very easy to use, very functional. No fancy pictures, no Vangelis music, no space-ship view zooming around in space, no 3-D views of the solar system, no soothing voice-overs explaining to me what a "Planetary Nebula" might be. Just a simple and clean map of the sky. The Java script makes the sky pan somewhat clunkily but allows it to run on any platform which can handle Java. My only other complaint is that, like every other planetarium program written by and for astronomers, you can't select Sidereal Hour Angle instead of Right Ascension. But I have yet to find a program which allows you to use both; astronomers live in one world and navigators live in a different one. Astronomers want to know when a certain object will be visible above their horizon, so RA makes sense for them. As a navigator I don't care which objects I'm able to see at a given time so long as I can see two or three bright ones, and can correlate them to the earth's latitude and longitude, so SHA makes sense for me. It would be really nice if someone would develop a program which could handle either, but I'm not holding my breath. But for a free download which doesn't completely gobble up your hard drive, Night Vision is a really nice tool.

Here's the link: Night Vision

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