Stellarium 0.11.2 Review

excellent
key review info
application features
  • default catalogue of over 600,000 stars
  • (5 more, see all...)

Stellarium is a one of a kind software that provides more than just a simple rendering of the night sky, as it can also illustrate our space dreams, and because we cannot yet go to the stars, we can make the stars come to us.

Stellarium was initially developed by Fabien Chéreaum, back in 2001, so it's safe to say it has quite a history. Over time, the project has gotten bigger and a lot of other developers are now contributing to it.

Although it might seem like a really specialized piece of software, the object of Stellarium is exactly the opposite of that. It provides accurate data that can be used by professional and amateur astronomers, but at the same time anyone can install it and use it.

Also, its apparent simplicity doesn't turn away people who are seeking a great tool for surveying the sky.

Installation

I installed the software on Ubuntu 11.10, from the Ubuntu Software Center, but the Ubuntu repositories are a little behind the official releases, so the developers also provide a PPA repository. The installation in this case is quite simple. Just open a terminal and enter the following commands, one by one (hitting Enter after each one):

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:stellarium/stellarium-releases
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install stellarium


A source package is also provided by the developers, therefore users can compile their own version, if they choose to.

Usage

I cannot express the bewilderment and awe I felt when I opened the software for the first time, a few years ago. I am not an astronomer, but I had heard of this application and I was curious. I am a fan since then and I like to open it from time to time to see what can be observed in the sky above me.

My guess is that the majority of Stellarium users are not professional astronomers, so the purpose of this application is to educate the layman.

The interface is clear and anyone can use it, which is a big plus for such a complicated software. The first thing anyone must do when opening Stellarium is to define the location. It has already most cities on Earth (and some other planets), but the pickiest users can define a latitude and longitude.

There are several backgrounds available, and from the main window several options are available to enrich the sky, such as constellation lines, constellation labels, equatorial grid, azimuthal grid, cardinal point, nebulas, satellites, and so on.

One of the main functions is the timeline. Users can fast-forward or rewind time, faster or slower, watching how everything unfolds in real time.

We know how some of the stuff looks like, like Saturn or the Moon, which are rendered and zooming on them will show all the surface details.

In Stellarium 0.11.2 there are over 600.000 stars available (users can download an additional 210 million stars), constellations from several cultures (not just our western one), atmosphere effects, images of nebulae, planetarium dome projection, and much more. I could go on and on about all the features and it’s really a wonder how the developers managed to get so many information in such a small package.

Stellarium also features a powerful search function, enabling user to find anything they want. Just write something like Altair or Arcturus and the application will shift its focus to the desired object.

The software comes with several plug-ins installed, but there are a handful of others available for download. These are useful only if you know what you’re doing and are only needed by people who use the application for some other purposes besides star gazing.

The Bad

The software is a stable one, despite the version number, but as far as I’m concerned, this is almost a perfect application. If I would have at least dabbled in astronomy, I might have found some problems, but as it stands, I can only judge it by a technical point of view.

The only problem I could identify, although I’m not trained to verify its authenticity, was pointed out on some forums. It appears that are some minor variations on position between reality and the software, for certain objects.

The Good

I haven’t tried to hide the fact that I like Stellarium. The main reason for this is the fact that it gave me a clear image of the night sky without asking me to know anything about it.

The sheer volume of options available and the crystal clear presentation of its features makes this the best free solution for amateur astronomers and for space aficionados.

Conclusion

It’s always difficult to write a conclusion for a software you love, but if it were after me, Stellarium should be an obligatory course, at least through middle school. This is the kind of application that makes you feel important and insignificant at the same time, but it also teaches you that the Universe is a big place and that we know mostly nothing about it.

I recommend this application to anyone who is interested in science and especially to parents who want to open their children's eyes to the wonders of the Universe.
user interface 5
features 5
ease of use 5
pricing / value 5


final rating 5
Editor's review
excellent
 

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