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Astronomy Software

In astronomy, there is a wide variety of software. In most cases, there are many different versions of software that do a particular thing. The most common reason for this is preference. While I  use some of these software titles, I am in no way endorsing one brand over another. All of the software listed here are popular among the amateur astronomer population; in fact, it is common for one person to have several different programs that do about the same thing - the features of one might be missing in another, but that other may excel in something else (if that makes sense). For ease, I will break them down into category. Keep in mind this list is not at all complete. If there is a software that is worth mentioning, please send us the link.

The ASP has releaced a PDF file of astronomy related apps for the iPhone and Android. View or download the file.

Planetarium Software | Specialty Observing Programs | CCD Software | Robotic Software | Other Software

Software for OS X (Apple) | New! iPhone/iPod/iPad Apps | New! Palm PDA Apps

Planetarium Software:

This type of software is used to map the night sky from any location on the Earth. It most cases, the software below can print our star charts for a night of viewing and will have extensive databases with at least the most popular night sky objects.

  • The SkyX by Software Bisque is probably the most popular planetarium software available. I also use version 6 of this software. The benefit of using TheSky is their extensive database, ability to remotely control a computerized telescope, and work seamlessly with their other popular product, CCDSoft. Their website also has a Hot Fix section for up to date software updates (you will have to register).
  • The power of TheSky has come to OS X in the form of the new version of TheSky X student edition. TheSky X is now available in the The SkyX Serious Astronomer Edition are available for both OS X and Windows. Windows 7 and 64bit OS's are supported. The previous version, The Sky 6 Professional is still a well respected program that does run on 64bit operating systems but is a Windows only program.
  • TheSky Pocket Edition provides access to the virtual sky from your Palm or Pocket PC. For the diehard astronomer, you can download and extended version of the SAO catalog as well.
  • A free, open-source software called Stellarium is probably a good place to start.
  • Another free planetarium software is Celestia. It runs on Windows, Linux and Mac. This software not only shows you the sky from Earth, but also allows you to "fly" to other locations and view the sky from there.
  • Google Earth is no longer limited to great satellite images of Earth, they have created color images of the space as well. They include Hubble images in places where they belong, and a cool feature is that you can switch the view based on where you live.
  • Microsoft Research has put together an educational program that is nothing short of a breakthrough. The World Wide Telescope allows the user access to just about every image taken from just about every space probe there is. Better still, the user can change the view from radio through to x-ray (visible included of course). It's Windows only, its free so download it now.
  • Keeping with the freeware theme, the third free bit of software is an up-and-coming simple yet capable sky charting program called Asynx Planetarium.
  • Starry Night is a software that uses OpenGL and Quick Time to show a photo realistic night sky. It also provides telescope control. Updates for this software are available at their website, but newer versions allow updates through an application installed with the program.
  • An old style DOS type software by Project Pluto called Guide 8 is also a pretty capable Windows based software as well. While it does not have the pizzazz associated with the "modern" planetariums, it does have what I consider one of the best presentations of nebula. Guide updates are also available on the website.
  • A specialized planetarium software called AstroMB is also available. I have no experience with this software, but it boasts a pretty impressive set of features - available for viewing at their website.
  • SkyMap is another software title I am not familiar with, but it does seem to have a faithful following.
  • Redshift is a program that used to be Macintosh only, and doesn't seem to want to go away. I used it many years ago and found it capable although I have no idea how the newer versions are compared to what is currently available.
  • Sky Tools by CapellaSoft is a bit different from other planetarium software as it has an integrated notepad to store observing notes during observation. While I have no personal experience with this software, this also seems to have a faithful following.
  • SkyChart III by Southern Stars is a planetarium software that is for both Windows and Macintosh.
  • Voyager 4 by Carina Software - a Windows and OS X platform planetarium software, this provides the standard features expected in virtual sky and telescope control.
  • Stellaris — A shareware program for the amateur astronomer
  • Cartes du Ciel/SkyChart - a planetarium program boasting 16 different catalogs boasting its completeness over other software with the same feature. Supports Windows, Mac and Linux and has a few more catalog add-ons available.
  • CyberSky 5 is a run of the mill planetarium program. It offers the standard features in that the night sky can be viewed at any date in time. While not the prettiest program out there, this serves two main purposes: it keeps the price down and speeds up the program. Most new programs use Open GL for that real sky look but comes at the ex pence of computer processor usage, graphics usage and memory usage. I tested this program and found it does what it is supposed to do. It is Windows only program but will run om XP, Vista, and 7 in both 32 bit and 64 bit modes.

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Specialty Observing Programs:

These programs are not full featured planetariums, but specialize in specific objects.

  • DeepSky 2011 - I had a chance to use this software and it does a lot. While not as smooth or cohesive as TheSky, it does do several things well. With a bit of a learning curve, one gets a list of available targets for the evening so a plan can be made. An image of the object is available so you have an idea what the target is; so when ready, you can view its location on their built-in chart, send the target info to your goto system and enjoy. From the, note of what you see can also be performed. It keeps a detailed log, and you can share online. Be sure to give it a go!
  • Seeker by Bisque - a 3D immersive tool for traveling through our Solar System
  • VRMars - A virtual reality program that lets you see through the eyes of the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit (The Opportunity MER version is in the works).
  • Night Sky Observer has a program called LunarPhase Pro that is a very capable Lunar observing program. It has imbedded maps, listings of major Lunar features, and Lunar time tables for anything you want to know.
  • Night Sky Observer also has a very nice program called JupSat Pro. It's a program designed to provide information on the four Galilean moons of Jupiter - and does it well.
  • Heavenscape software has a nice program called Satellite Tracker. This program allows full control of a Meade or Celestron computer controlled telescope to track the orbiting satellites - like the International Space Station and various communication satellites.
  • Google Earth is no longer limited to great satellite images of Earth, they have created color images of the space as well. They include Hubble images in places where they belong, and a cool feature is that you can switch the view based on where you live.
  • Microsoft Research has put together an educational program that is nothing short of a breakthrough. The World Wide Telescope allows the user access to just about every image taken from just about every space probe there is. Better still, the user can change the view from radio through to x-ray (visible included of course). It's Windows only, its free so download it now.
  • Halley - Electronic Catalog of Comets. This is a Windows program that maintains a current list of by database. It includes a fast search and export to ECS format.
  • MAXCLOCK - This is a free, highly accurate clock dedicated to astronomy. It provides accurate UT as well as Sun and Moon rise and set time and much more.
  • AstroClock-Now - Another sidereal/UTC clock with a clean Windows interface. Also includes Sun,Moon and planet rise and set times based on observer location.
  • DeepSky - This program is a large and useful program. A quick setup to tell the program where you live will allow it to list available DeepSky objects in view for the evening. There is also an observers log and an optional add-on for telescope control. Click on an object of interest and you are presented with a DSS image. You can view a Moon map and create custom star charts.

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CCD Control and Imaging Software:

This will be the longest list as there are many of these types of programs available. I will keep the descriptions short for this list.

  • CCDSoft - works in concert with TheSky for full camera and telescope control. Also provides the necessary image reduction, processing and stacking
  • Mira Pro and Mira AP - professional level CCD software
  • MaxImDL - a popular choice that offers CCD control and processing
  • AIP4WIN - a popular choice that is really a book with included software
  • Santa Barbara Instrument Groups software page - CCD software updates
  • IRIS - a free and capable program for CCD control and processing
  • Registar - specialized image stacking program
  • RegiStax - free image stacking program, used mostly for planets
  • K3CCDTools - provides video image stacking and image processing
  • Fits4Win - Windows program to view FITS files
  • AstroVideo - specialized video stacking program
  • RC-Astro Console - Russell Croman's add-in for enhanced MaxImDL functionality
  • SigmaReject - Another Russell Croman plug-in for MaxImDL
  • RGB Weight Calculator - Specialized program that assists in determining ideal exposure time for various filtered images
  • AstroArt 3.0 - 96bit image processing software
  • ImagePlus - image converter and processor, useful for Digital SLR cameras
  • Adobe PhotoShop - need I say more? The de-facto standard for the "digital darkroom"
  • Grain Surgery - clean up those messy images
  • PixInsight - image enhancement
  • NEAT Image - digital filter for noise reduction
  • FitsPlug - FITS file plug-in for PhotoShop
  • Irfanview - free image reader and basic processing, reads just about everything
  • FITS Liberator - a free PhotoShop plugin by the folks from the ESA/ESO and NASA

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Robotic and Remote Control Software:

This next batch of software specializes in telescope control - either from another room or across the globe.

  • TheSky with CCDSoft provide robotic control from a computer nearby.
  • Want to improve your telescopes pointing accuracy? T-Point is a software that models your mounts accuracy and uses this model to improve pointing accuracy.
  • Orchestrate is a software to automate imaging sessions - so you can get some sleep.
  • For those with motorized domes, AutomaDome adds the ability to control the dome as well - moving the dome with the scope as well as opening and closing.
  • Users of the Paramount can improve accuracy with PrecisionPEC.
  • Have your cake and eat it too - the complete Bisque Observatory Software Suite.
  • DC-3 Dreams - full suite of robotic observatory control, software updates available in their support pages
  • PoleAlignMax - software to assist your computer control telescope to point to the north
  • ASCOM - the communications standard for interface control in astronomy
  • CCDWare - a new software company providing a variety of products used to assist in tracking accuracy and automatic control (with links to other software as well), imaging stacking, session planning and CCD inspection.
  • SN Finder - This software automates supernova searches, designed by an amateur astronomer for amateur astronomers

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Other Software:

The following software doesn't really fit in the above categories.

  • Aberrator - software to assist in star testing a telescope
  • Microsoft Service Packs - a nice website to know, has all current service packs for Microsoft products
  • MSDN .Net Updates - for those Visual Studio .Net programmers, this is a valuable resource
  • Astro Image Frame Maker - a utility designed to add borders and titles to astro images
  • The KDE Education Project has a program called KStars that runs on Linux
  • GlobularClusters - it can be very useful to amateur astronomers to better understand the effects of gravity in a star cluster and to make experiments “at home” by changing fundamental parameters such as concentration and diameter of a cluster or mass and velocity of individual stars.
  • SpaceEngine - a free space simulation program that lets you explore the universe in three dimensions, from planet Earth to the most distant galaxies. Areas of the known universe are represented using actual astronomical data, while regions uncharted by astronomy are generated procedurally. Millions of galaxies, trillions of stars, countless planets - all available for exploration. You can land any planet, moon or asteroid and watch alien landscapes and celestial phenomena. You can even pilot starships and atmospheric shuttles.

Software for OS X (Apple):

Software for the iPhone/iPod/iPad - otherwise known as Apps:

    This list is by no means complete. These just happen to be the apps I use, have used or seen. If you know of any that should be listed here, please let me know.

    • SkySafari Pro - planetarium and telescope control, huge database
    • Star Walk - a best seller. It's a planetarium, can show you the area you are pointing your device as long as you have GPS, and offers some news and basic Solar System data
    • Redshift - planetarium software
    • Sky Master - planetarium software
    • Solar Walk - from the makers of Star Walk. Solar System simulator
    • Gas Giants - by Bisque. A virtual view of Jupiter and Saturn with real-time positions of their major moons
    • Solar System -The Photographic Journey - image gallery of objects in our Solar System
    • Mars Atlas - a map of Mars
    • Moon Atlas - a map of our Moon
    • Mercury Atlas - a map of Mercury
    • Venus Atlas - a map of Venus
    • Jupiter Atlas - a sort of map of Jupiter
    • Saturn Atlas - a sort of map of Saturn
    • 3D Sun - view 3D images of our Sun and receive alerts of real time Solar data such as sunspot activity and Solar storms
    • AstronomyCalc - a calculator for basic conversions, date and time, coordinate conversions and Solar calculations
    • Astronomy - a cool app that is an image gallery, lists past, current and future space missions, a history of Astronomy and a list of Stars and Constellations with basic visibility data
    • NASA - of course NASA must have an app, and its a list of their missions, image gallery, news and NASA TV
    • Go Star Gaze - a part of the Night Sky Network it offers a list of clubs and events, all up to date with updates when the program starts
    • Sky View - an app that uses your devices camera to superimpose the constellations. Relies on GPS.
    • Cosmic Clock - an app for Julian Date and Swatch Internet Time (beat time)
    • APODViewer - view the Astronomy Photo of the Day as well as browse past entries
    • Sky Week - by Sky and Telescope shows a list of interesting things to look at for each morning and evening
    • Buzz Aldrin - an information packed app of myths and mysteries, the Space Race, exploration of the Moon and Mars and covers the Hubble. You do know who Buzz Aldrin is, right?
    • Solar Monitor - an app that displays current Solar "weather" and offers a forecast of Solar Winds for those who love to watch the Aurora
    • Galaxy Zoo - have you heard of the SETI@Home screensaver? In the same vein, this allows the user to view images of very distant galaxies from the Hubble Deep Field (HDF) and assist in identifying galaxy type through a step-by-step category
    • Exoplanet - a great app that is a database of known exoplanets. It also graphs out orbital position and distance from host star as well as how the discovery was made
    • Kepler - just like Exoplanet with the database of exoplanets, but limits the list to discoveries made by the Kepler probe
    • HubbleZoom - An image gallery of Hubble Space Telescope images, though not the best interface
    • Gravilux - advertised as a game, this program is interesting as it uses the n-body equations to simulate a galaxy merger
    • iCSC - the Clear Sky Chart for IOS
    • iNEO - a list of asteroids closest to Earth
    • Cosmic - The American Museum of Natural History app displaying a zoomable mosaic of Saturn comprised of hundred's of images
    • Nebulae - an image gallery of nebula
    • Our Solar System - an image gallery of Solar System images
    • GoSkyWatch - planetarium software that uses GPS
    • SkyQ - planetarium app by Celestron. Also includes planet rise and set times, Moon phases and the positions of the major moons of Saturn and Jupiter
    • Distant Suns 3 - planetarium software with very nice database

    Software for the Palm PDA:

    • Planetarium - the name says it all. It provides Sun, Moon and planet data as well as all ther constellations. It's database has 2.5 million stars, the 110 Messier objects, the Caldwell 110, 280 double-stars, the Herschel 400 and an additional 1000 deep space objects. And it has telescope control via serial port. Comets and asteroids are also available on the expandable database.

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