Explore the night sky with Stellarium

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©Passakorn Vejchayacha, 123rf.com

©Passakorn Vejchayacha, 123rf.com

Sky View

What shines in the dark is often hidden by clouds. Stellarium provides a clear view of the stars plus a lot of astronomical data.

A visit to a planetarium might be fascinating, but doesn't occur very often. The Stellarium software [1], however, provides a really interesting and convenient alternative. Moreover, Stellarium helps in observing the actual night sky. Because the software presents the sky photorealistically, nothing stands in the way of making it available in a classroom or during a lecture. And, because Stellarium is available in the repositories for all the major distributions, installation is at the click of a button.


Photorealism means that Stellarium presents the sky as observers experience it on the ground. The software is aware of current events and exhibits the sky from the perspective of different parts of the globe. At night, the sky is dark and the stars are resplendent; during the day the sky is bright and the sun bursts on the landscape. One important element is missing in Stellarium: clouds, rain, and fog – precisely those meteorological phenomena that send many Central European amateur astronomers on distant travels, such as to Namibia or Tenerife, for a clearer view.

After starting up, Stellarium adopts a southern view of the sky at the current time of the preset location. The software takes the time from your computer's clock, although you can set it to whatever you want. The same goes for the location, which is Paris by default. You can change the default to the location of your choice, for example, the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, or your own garden. Help with settings is provided in the manual [2]. You can even change the settings to provide interesting views from the moon, Mars, or Saturn.

Note that getting a fitting environment can be anything but trivial. In my test, an apartment building blocked part of my view of the sky.


Stellarium starts out in full screen mode to get a full view of the sky. The status bar at the bottom edge shows just the current observer location, field of view (FOV), frame rate, and current time and date.

Configuration is through keyboard shortcuts or menus that appear as soon as the cursor hits the left or bottom edge of the screen (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Menus and controls appear when the cursor hits the left or bottom edge of the screen.

All the settings you make are stored and persist through the next startup. The first setting, naturally, is the observer location. Press F6 or a menu item to open the matching dialog. Hovering over controls provides tooltips that explain the task and associated keyboard shortcut.

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