Learn About The Stars In The Sky With Open Source Program Stellarium

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stellariumUnless you’ve been living under a rock all your life (congratulations on finding out about the Internet if you have!), you’ve probably stared at the night sky at some point or another, wondering what all their names are and what stars actually make up which constellations. I’ve wondered about this many times, and honestly I still do. But my curiosity can now be quenched thanks to a fantastic open source program that delivers in spectacular fashion.

Stellarium was actually covered by MUO back in 2009 (back when IE6 was still used fairly heavily), and as all open source projects are, enough things have changed for it to be reviewed once again. Although the interface and basic program usage hasn’t changed, there are still some noticeable differences.

Installation

Installation is easy as always. You can install it from here if you use Windows or Mac, and Linux users can install Stellarium via their package managers. Once installed, you can simply launch it via your menus (Linux users will have it under their Education category).

Getting Started

stellarium

When you launch Stellarium, you’ll be greeted immediately by a full-screen view of the sky at your current time. The default location is Paris, so if you don’t live there, the sky that’s shown won’t look like it actually does outside your window. In order to get your actual location, you’ll need to move your mouse to the bottom of the screen, where some options will suddenly appear that were hidden.

If you move your mouse over to the left you’ll find yet another pane of options with bigger buttons. The very top button on the left pane is responsible for setting the location. In here you can choose the nearest city, or for optimal results you can enter your own coordinates. Remember that these need to be entered with minutes and seconds included.

Where To Find Options

stellarium astronomy

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In general, you’ll find settings related more to how the program operates in the left pane, while viewing options are on the bottom pane. Click around to see what you’d like to have in your view. You can also set the time parameters on the bottom panel.

For example, options include constellation lines, labels, art, different grid options, and plenty more. The program options on the left pane are very complex in that they can tweak a great variety of options that I personally feel more comfortable leaving alone.

stellarium astronomy

General Use

stellarium

Clicking on stars (both visible on the screen and invisible) will result in a nice pane of information in the top left corner of your screen. If you still have it set to use the current time, all the information will automatically update, most notably the distance from your current location to that star. You can move the sky by right-clicking anywhere and holding that button down while moving the mouse around. Honestly, simply through playing around will you get a clear idea of how to use the program.

If you’re mainly a keyboard user and hate having to use the mouse, there are plenty of keyboard shortcuts. I have not thoroughly explored them myself, but the previous article about Stellarium has a nice compilation of keyboard shortcuts that you can use.

New Features

The main functions of Stellarium are cool, but the newest features are what’s interesting.

Install New Landscapes

Using the same landscape, no matter what location you have selected, can get pretty boring after a while. Also, it simply takes away from the accuracy, as the landscape should be as accurate as the night sky. Now you can install custom landscapes (in .ZIP format) to get that added benefit.

New Plugins

Stellarium isn’t just a single package, but instead can be expanded with plugins. The developers themselves use this feature to create plugins they ship along with the program itself. There are two new plugins: a solar system editor and a time zone manual override plugin. Updates have also been pushed out for the oculars, satellites, and telescope control plugins to include new features.


(Ocular View)

Conclusion

Stellarium is a very high-quality program for finding out where stars are along with other information about them. In terms of graphics quality, design layout, and customization abilities I must say that this is a top notch open source application. Really, the best way to use it is to find out the right settings for you and enjoy it from there.

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Comments (12)
  • Carla-hotty

    omg help i need a great informative speech in the next 15 miutes
     

  • SteFan Dufresne

    The more i scroll your site,the more i wonder just how could i possibly have survived my internet experience without MakeUseOf for the last many years.Just a few moments ago i discovered this awesome tool (stellarium) and since i am science addicted this will greatly help me with my star gazing hobby..

    Truthfully folks,since this comment is out of date and probably no one will read this i can humbly say ”the more i learn in life,,the more i realise i don’t know much”
    Quoted by Albert Einstein.

    How could i ever rethank you guy’s at MakeUseOf,,,How about a $2,000,000 donation ?
    :))
    seriously thank you so much for your daly hard research.
    sincerely
    SteFan Dufresne
    Quebec city
    Canada

  • Anonymous

    This is one of the few programs featured on makeuseof I did know for a couple of years now. Nice job for covering it!

    • Aibek

      Did you by any chance discovered via MakeUseOf when we covered it back in 2009? :) 

    • Anonymous

      Hahah, yes it can be true! So many cool stuff I now use so often… Really awesome that I found some great Mac tips as well. Thanks again for the good work to the team of MakeUseOf. One of my favorite tech sites :)

  • Cell Travis

    Stellarium is a really beautiful software. Celestia is another complementary 3D astronomy software if you like space exploration.

  • Raamee

    This is a very good software! I have it on my desktop.

  • Aibek

    Hey Stefan,

    We read all of the comments posted on MakeUseOf regardless of how old the posts are.
    Thank you for your kind words :) I hope we’ll be able to become even more useful for you in the future.

    Aibek

  • Tina

    Thank you very much for your feedback, SteFan!

Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.