Back to ol’ Xplanet

One of my favorite eye candy programs from the past is xplanet (the other one is electricsheep :D). It works perfectly with almost all window managers and the final product is not only beautiful but also very informative. The documentation is pretty straight forward and easy to understand but i haven’t seen any configurations lying around in the web. Anyway i provide here my own along with a small (wannabe) guide for it. As of the images or scripts that were used for this, i’ll just provide the necessary links.

Lets assume that we got xplanet sources and have them installed and working. As the README suggests, i took the default configuration provided and xplanet and built upon it. The base configuration provides sth like this:


Very nice huh? The default image provided is very nice but if you want to move a step forward or want sth with a bit more resolution you can get one of the monthly versions of Nasa’s Visible Earth.

The first 3 things that are missing from the image are, the moon, clouds, and finally background stars.

Well by default, all celestial objects of our solar system are loaded so you ll probably see it if you have xplanet refreshing every (eg 10 minutes) the problem is that moon is small and you ll likely see it rarely. So to watch the moon more ofter i added to my conf

magnify 40
magnify 10

A little bit more magnification to moon and it will look like a twin planet 😛

Next step is the clouds, which are explained pretty much in the main page. There are 2 scripts that are used to fetch the cloud image. Both will do the job, i just altered them a bit to get the 4096 version of the clouds and save them to my .xplanet dir to keep things tidy. The cloud images are updated every 3 hours so i just added the script to a cronjob with

0 */03 * * * /path/to/script/

If you’ve created a .xplanet dir to store your configuration just throw the image in and add


to your xplanet.conf. If you prefer to store it in another folder eg. images in .xplanet just add


Finally you need a nice background to complete the picture. According to documentation all you must do is to start xplanet with xplanet -config xplanet.conf -starmap /usr/share/xplanet/stars/BSC. I even used the commands that are suggested by the FAQ but it wasnt very nice. I found out that the provided solution is very nice if you set the -fov(field of view) option to eg 50. If you prefer this solution its a good idea to use the constellations marker file and start it by adding


You can find it in /usr/share/xplanet/arcs/constellations.
This will draw all the constellations around and with brightStars you’ll get the names.
Personally i dont use the above method. I just got a nice star field from an image search, played a bit with its contrast and brightness and used it as a background with the -background option. I also changed the default earth and specular images with the ones found here and the result looks like this:


Take a closer look at the marker_file option. With default supplied marker files you can add borders, coastlines, hamradio stations, capital names etc. You can also add information about volcanoes, storms, satellites and quakes using the Totalmarker binary. For example in my setup i have set a cron job that connects every hour to Norad and gets the appropriate tle files to mark the position and path of the requested satellites on the xplanet image.

0 */01 * * *  /path/.xplanet/Totalmarker -Norad


Well all that info about earthquake and volcanoes and such its really nice but it gets pretty crowded so i prefer to keep track only of the satellites (ISS, HUBBLE, etc)

All the above is for earth alone. Its possible to view all planets of the solar system with the -body option and of course gather info for their artificial satellites and moons. In my setup i use the images provided by this site, which are very very nice and detailed. You can get my conf from the downloads page. To launch it and update it every 10minutes you can use the below command:
nice -n 19 xplanet -config ~/.xplanet/xplanet.conf -transparency -utclabel -background ~/.xplanet/starfield-1.jpg -wait 300 -hibernate 600

Another nice option here is -random 😉