Stellarium is a great planetarium program available at stellarium.org. In fact, it’s such a good planetarium program that it could be used with planetarium projectors. Of course, planetarium projectors have to get an image onto a dome, but Stellarium has a built-in projection method for doing that. Like the different methods to draw a map, Stellarium has a variety of methods to draw the sky, including gnomonic projection, perspective, stereographic, and a lot more.
It’s not just the projection methods that make Stellarium so versatile. Stellarium comes built in with a catalog and images of 13,226 NGC (New Galactic Catalogue) objects, art for 85/88 constellations, constellation lines, and an extensive catalogue of stars from the Messier and Hipparcos catalogues, which can be expanded, but these would be nothing without the advanced effects Stellarium has. These effects include super-realistic sunsets, sunrises, and even solar eclipses. Stellarium does a superb job at making sunsets look realistic.
In addition, this program is also very customizable. You can turn the atmosphere off and walla, the Earth’s atmosphere is taken away, allowing you to see the sun and the stars in the daytime at the same time. There’s also a setting for fog, which appears as a thin haze around the ground. You can even simulate light pollution on a scale of 1-10. Other customizations include sky culture, where you can select different constellations by cultures around the world (e.g. Chinese constellations, Maori constellations, Inuit, etc.) You can set a custom date and time and speed through time at a minute a second or go backwards at comparable rates. You can set your location almost anywhere in the Solar System, be it at Seattle, Washington; at the south pole; in the crater on Phobos; or at Pluto.
Other cool features include:
- Twinkling stars
- Meteor shower simluation
- Different landscapes
- Find an object, which includes search suggestions
- Scripts, which allow Stellarium to run a “mini-program”
- Fog effects, atmosphere on/off
- Convenient keyboard shortcuts
Stellarium is a simple and yet powerful planetarium program. It deserves a 10/10 and I recommend it to everyone.