Planetarium Software

There are scores of planetarium software packages on the market but with over a dozen quality offerings downloadable for free, I'm only going to introduce you to those resources that don't require you to stump up funds to use them - I've used, but never kept, any of the ones you pay for.

These software packages will be more than good enough for all but professional astronomers.

stellarium logo

Stellarium is perhaps the default planetarium software, used by most beginner astronomers due to its simplicity, flexibility and user-friendly format.

Move forward and backwards in time to plan your night's observing, find your preferred objects in the sky and judge the best time to observe the objects of your choice.

Windows | Mac | Linux

virtual moon atlas logo

For learning your way around the craters, seas and rilles on the moon, there can perhaps be no better tool.

Not just for beginners, this atlas helps you plan lunar observing settings using the ephemeris tab to see what moon phases will occur on a given evening. 

Windows | Mac | Linux

night vision screenshot

Night Vision is a rather simple display of the night sky using barebones graphics - but hey, it's free so who's complaining at that?

The simplicity of this software means that it's easy to navigate around without being overwhelmed with niggly added features that beginners are unlikely to need. It makes a good learning springboard to more complicated planetariums.

Windows | Mac | Linux

cartes du ciel screenshot

Cartes Du Ciel is another  planetarium software on the desktop of most amateur astronomers. 

While not as 'pretty' as Stellarium it does have more functionality and boasts a very impressive collection of sky objects, including more than 40 asteroids and over a hundred comets. It can also access other catalogues on CD or the internet.

Windows | Mac | Linux

sky orb 3d logo

This new 3D edition of SkyORB gives you the stylish interface you'd expect from a Mac-based planetarium and, naturally, has an iPhone and iPad counterpart.

This is another skyscanning incarnation that allows you to view the skies from Earth or anywhere else in the solar system. The Earth view includes comet, asteroid and satellite trajectories.  

Mac only

celestia logo

Celestia is a fantastic educational resource for showing children and new astronomers the workings of the galaxy and stunning views of solar system objects.

View Jupiter from the moon Io or go on a flying solar system tour - this software puts you in the pilot's seat of your own spacecraft! 

Windows | Mac | Linux

where is m13 logo

Where is M13? is another neat reworking of the planetarium canon for educational and illustrative purposes.

Choose your favourite deep sky object and you'll get images showing you where in the galaxy it is and it's position relative to the galactic plane. There's also a galaxy view, containing all the DSOs, to allow you to click away on random DSOs should you wish.

Windows | Mac | Linux

xephem logo

This is a very powerful and complicated ephemeris and planetaruim software, containing most large databases and updating itself with new satellites and comets. It's features are truly wide, meaning it contains everything you'll need.

While complex, this system won't bother anyone who prefers Linux as an operating system.

UNIX-based systems