Recommended: StellariumMay 7th, 2010 | By PL Monteiro | Category: Out In Space, Recommended
Looking for a cool neat tool to learn the night sky? Tired of dragging around paper charts and the flashlight with the transparent red filter (to allow better night vision)? Search no more. The Open Source community has been working in this for years and the software is by now pretty mature and full of features. Load it to your laptop, choose a clear sky night and engage your kids into this. These will be nights they will remember as grown-ups and may even want to redo with children of their own.
Go to http://stellarium.org/, check the latest news and an extensive list of features. Get the user’s guide if you like, but the software is so easy to use that unless you are thinking expert use, in all likelihood you won’t need it. Select your system and download from SourceForge. Install to your laptop. If you native language is not English, see the available languages from Afrikaans to Tieng Viet, or versions of Chinese. Set your observation spot from a long list of locations, or work out your latitude and longitude (from Google Earth, say) and save it to the list. Put it in night mode to accommodate your eyes to vision in the dark. You need not tinker with the hour. The software reads the computer time (that in Windows is synchronized through the Internet every week) and it shows the sky right above you, by day or by night. If curious, you may also want to see the night sky through the eyes of other (non-Western) cultures and you can.
If you want your kids to see shooting stars, you may try staring up hoping something will happen, or go to a list of meteor showers, work out the time of year and constellation where they seem to come from, appropriate to your hemisphere, and have an abundance of these every few seconds.