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Astronomy educational software takes you up, up and far, far away

January 1, 2009

in All Articles,Astronomy

Just for a moment, you need to be a superhero. For the trip we’re taking, you need to be Superman, Silver Surfer, or any super-duper fella with the ability to fly and who doesn’t need to breathe.

You’re going straight up.

Crashing through the roof of your house, you shoot through the bright sunlight sky, shaking off droplets of water as you zoom through clouds in the ever-thinning troposphere. Rocketing at super-speed, your skin glowing red-hot from the terrible air friction, you blast away from Earth. Daylight around you fades, the sky grows black. Your skin is dry and cold. You glimpse a space shuttle, containing surprised-looking astronauts. You’re now four hundred miles above the Earth.

You’ve arrived.

World Wind shows the view of Earth as seen from 400 miles up.

If there were flowers here, you’d stop and smell them. Relax and take in the view. The surrounding inky blackness contains stars, countless pinpricks of light. With no interference from Earthly incandescence, stars are everywhere you look, as millions of marbles tossed carelessly by a celestial hand.

Look down at the Earth and see it taking up much of your vision, continents looming large. Your sense of awe is fast replaced by wanderlust. Let’s explore another planet. One with rings would be nice. They always look so cool in pictures.

If you don’t have superpowers or a space shuttle in your garage, you can still tour the solar system and beyond.

World Wind

The free World Wind” software shows what Earth looks like as viewed from any point in space.

Created by NASA, World Wind uses real-time satellite and weather data, so what you see is as if you were really there. Using the built-in database of popular landmarks, you can hover hundreds of feet above Disneyland, or shoot hundreds of miles up for the (very) big picture.

Stellarium and Star Pilot

Look up and see the maps, mythology and history of the human race: Constellations fill the sky. Stellariumgives you a real-time view of the sky and constellations from any point on Earth.

Stellarium gives you an imaginative real-time view of constellations.Take your laptop outside, and have it help you find constellations, planets, satellites, stars and thousands of other night-sky objects. If you have a Palm or Windows Mobile computer, use the $45 Star Pilot to view this information on your handheld device. The $30 “StyleTap” is required for Windows Mobile devices to use Star Pilot.


For the die-hard amateur astronomer who wants a literal tour of our solar system, the Milky Way and the universe, get the $45RedShift. This educational astronomy software for the PC gives you a planetarium at home. Hitch a ride on a comet, swoop around the moons of Jupiter, or look at the photo galleries of planets, nebulae and other deep-sky objects. RedShift is one of the most educational and best astronomy software packages available.

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