Stellarium - stars in my PC like grains of sand

When I was a member of the Albuquerque Astronomical Society, back in the 1970s, we all had our trusty star charts for finding objects in the night sky. These were big cardboard books with oval windows revealing part of a circular star chart that you would turn with your thumb.

Lots of fun, though it meant a great deal of neck twisting and holding the chart up at arm’s length while trying to point a red-filtered flashlight upwards. Not to mention the fact that the resolution of the star chart provided little more than the major constellations as a guide, which we then supplemented with rapid reading of the Skyguide, Field Guide to the Heavens and Burnham’s Celestial Handbook.

In terms of planetary astronomy, we were lucky if we could get a half decent solar system model to stay together long enough to display at school. You know, those things glued together from styrofoam balls and kebab sticks, and with Saturn’s rings portrayed by a lamentable pipe cleaner or sagging circle of construction paper. Now we can crank out images of our sister planets with X-Planet.

Or, in a matter of seconds, we can install Stellarium, a virtual live-time planetarium! This software is fantastic! In the blink of a lunatic’s eye, we can use our up-down arrows on the keyboard to sail skywards, and the page up page down keys to zoom across inter-galactic space! Want to see the Dumbbell Nebula?

Want to see Jupiter and it’s moons, all moving in the correct orbits - live time?

Whoa, nelly! This stuff is amazing. On the other hand, with imagery like this, I’m afraid kids will not bother to go out and look at the hazy, smoggy, overlit sky. Somehow we have to do both… that is if we ever want to get to Gleise J436b.