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A small linux astronomy software review

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UPDATE: Another updated post with some new apps is available here.

Using linux as a main operating system can still be tricky sometimes, especially when you want to combine your job with your hobbies. There are many astronomy programs for unix/linux. A good example is that most of Nasa’s servers run Solaris, so unix had always the upper hand in the exploration of universe and of course in variable astrophysics calculations. Recently i ve read that nasa, runs solely Fedora Core for timing servers and for some other jobs, Mandriva. By reading interviews and such is easy to understand that nasa’s engineers and programmers dont have any os wars to worry about. If it works we stick to it. No updates, only stability. I strongly agree with that philosophy. Im using Slackware for nearly 9 years and i havent changed os because it simply does what im asking to do.

Most of the programs below are open source. I have also included some DOS programs that can be used via dosbox simulation.

Xephem is an ephemeris and planetarium, astronomy software which is a bit difficult to use at the beginning but it becomes a necessity afterwards. Many features icluding a really huge catalogue of stars, deep sky objects and data from AAVSO, SOHO. You can use (after conversion) the tycho2 and hipparchos catalogues, connect it to Guide Star Catalog (with 998,402,801 objects) or view a sky view using Digitized Sky Survey. Eehh not enough words….

Predict rocks my socks.. Its a satellite tracking and orbital prediction program. Very useful for any kind of satellite tracking you wanna do. Just grab a small scope and on to the roof.

SkyChart / Cartes du Ciel. No introductions needed. An astronomy software that is used by many, even though its still in beta (for linux) its very usable and with the addition of extra images and catalogues it can be your celestial encyclopedia.

Stellarium. A very good planetarium program that is used by many amateur astronomers and even in commercial planetarium projectors for educational porpuses. Many claim that its strictly newbie application, but i really believe that thats rubbish. With a default catalogue of over 600.000 stars, scripting, realistic atmosphere, additional catalogues of over 200.000.000 stars, nebulae,etc i dont think that its newbie..

Partiview is not exactly an astronomy only related project. Its an interactive, stereoscopic and 3d viewer. Its pretty fast and has a ton of uses. One of the most famous is Digital Universe. Take some time and check the “Uses of Partiview” section in the main site, believe me, you will be surprised by the uses in astrophysics, global networks or even machine learning.

Just Moon An experimental but highly usable lunar atlas similar to Virtual moon atlas. Very nice and simple program. I hope for some updates in the future.
(Note: if you still want to use Virtual Moon atlas go for the light version (3.5c) with wine)

PP3. Latex finds astronomy. One of the best celestial charts generator with very high graphical quality and uses latex. According to the author, PP3 is used for the maps of all constellations on Wikipedia. A small example is here. Even though the syntax that you may use to generate charts is not latex code its very simple and really fast to learn.

Siril is an image processing linux software (IRIS clone) that is used
by many astrophotographers. Even though you can still use gimp for that, Siril just makes life easier by using the features that we need most.

Skycalc is a small console calculator made for many quantities that observational astronomers need. Its very practical and light.

Newt is a newtonian telescope design program. Many atms(if not all) use it for their projects for its rich features and high data accuracy. You can use it to check for vignetting, optimizations of the diagonal size, calculations of the baffle size and a lot more. I use it with wine and never had a single glitch. 2 thumps up!

If you dont use a computer a lot with your observations be sure to have a calculator with you all the time. Saved me countless times.

If you require more, you may check my links, but i think that most of the above fulfill most of your base needs.
Of course if you cant find nothing that matches your criteria, you may write something on your own and share it with others 🙂 . A good example is scripting in any language or engine such as GnuOctave, Scilab and Matlab.

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Written by aperturefever

July 20, 2008 at 12:49 pm

3 Responses

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