If you have a favoured observing site (your garden, an astronomical society or park) you can pre-plan your night's observing a little better with a landscape in Stellarium that matches your surroundings.
While time consuming, having your own garden represented in Stellarium is actually quite easy to do. Here's how:
- Take 360° images of your surroundings - you can do this with a normal camera and stitch them together in Photoshop or the free Microsoft ICE software, or use the free Photosynth app on an iPhone.
- You want to ensure your images cover the tops of all buildings and/or trees all the way down to the ground in front of them and make sure there are no gaps in your panorama.
- If you haven't used automatic stitching software (such as Photosynth), open Photoshop and use the File>Automate>Photomerge tool, select your images (except the one you took of the ground), select the 'Cylindrical' layout, select only 'Blend Images Together' and click OK.
- If the automated stitching is okay, click Layer>Merge Visible.
- If you're loading up a pre-stiched jpeg image from your hard drive or phone, you'll need your sky to show as transparent so, before you remove the sky in your image, double click on the image layer on the right hand side (see the image below) and then click OK on the box that appears. You should see the padlock icon on the layer is now gone.
- You'll now want to remove the sky by using Photoshop's magic wand tool (or whichever method you feel most comfortable with). It doesn't have to be perfect but outline the sky (leaving all the buildings/trees) and run over it with the eraser tool. The magic wand and eraser tools are circled in the image below:
- Now click on Image>Canvas Size and change the measurements use to pixels in the drop-down box circled below. The look at the current width & height of the image - you want your image to be twice as wide as it is tall so, in this instance I want to increase the height from 1704 to around 2000. So I should type '2000' into the New Size Height box.
- Now save the image as a .png file to retain its transparency. You do this by clicking File>Save As and changing the Format to 'PNG' in the format drop down box. Name your file, choose it's destination (your desktop is fine for now and click 'Save'.
- Find the landscapes already in your Stellarium folder on your computer. It should be in C:Program Files/Stellarium/Landscapes. Then create a new folder alongside the defaut 'hurricane', 'mars', 'guereins' folders and call it whatever name you choose - let's say 'home' for this demo.
- Now go back to one of the existing landscape folders, such as 'garching' or 'moon' (any will do) and copy the landscape.ini file. Then paste it into you new landscape folder.
- Double click on your new landscape.ini file and delete everything in there. Copy and paste the following text into that file.
[landscape] name = xxx type = spherical maptex = xxx.png angle_rotatez = 180
[location] planet = Earth latitude = +00d00'00" longitude = 0d00'00" altitude = 50
- Against name, change the xxx to whatever you want to call your landscape. Against maptex, change the xxx to whatever the panorama image you saved to your desktop is called - it must be identical. Amend the latitude and longitude to match your location. Click File>Save.
- Move your panorama image from your desktop into this new folder.
- Start up Stellarium and go to the Sky and Viewing Options Window on the left hand side. Click the Landscape tab and choose your new landscape.
- Open up the Configuration Window and click 'Save settings' so that it will default to this landscape each time you open up Stellarium.
You will find that the compass points are not properly aligned to your new landscape. If this is the case, open up the C:Program Files/Stellarium/Landscapes folder and double click on the landscapes.ini file. Change the 'angle_rotatez =' number from 180 until you get it right. You'll have to keep opening and closing Stellarium each time you try this so it will reset. The "angle_rotatez =" should be somewhere between 0 and 360, so an educated guess can be quite accurate.