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A 'Celestial' Journey Through the Universe
Free space simulation software Celestia takes users to the stars
Roberto Spiezio (seong)     Print Article 
Published 2005-11-23 13:22 (KST)   
"Space, the Final Frontier..." These words are ingrained inside every Star Trek fan.

Whether you are a sci-fi fanatic, astronomy enthusiast, student or simply you have at least once wondered "what lies out there," Celestia is a computer program that will try to give you an answer.

It is not ordinary astronomy software because it won't show you the typical "map of the sky." Instead, it will actually take you into the sky.

Released under the GNU General Public license, it will let you travel throughout planets and stars, comets and constellations, far beyond our solar system and the Milky Way, and "boldly go where no man has gone before."

Planet Earth as seen in Celestia
©2005 Celestia
The program is available for Windows, Mac OS, and even Linux operating systems. I tested the Windows version, which has an 11-megabyte installation file.

Once installed and started, this piece of software will show an amazing view of Earth from space that we can explore by using the relatively simple mouse controls.

The interface is quite intuitive to use, similar to many "plain" programs you might be used to: there is only a menu bar at the top of the main window and some information in the corners. Some of the most common commands include selection of objects, navigation to objects, star and solar system browser to look up planets and stars, and much more.

With a simple interface, however, the spectacle of the universe can be enjoyed fully, without the predictable confusion that could come from a "heavy" screen, full of commands and data scrolling.

The strong point of Celestia is its great graphics. Provided you have a reasonably powerful video card, you will be able to appreciate finest details in stars and planets, making your experience even more realistic and impressive.

People who like reading manuals can rely on the large number of documents made available by the developers as well as by the community of users. Every aspect of the program has been addressed, and the community is always open to questions and suggestions.

In its basic version, Celestia can bore people after a while ["Yes, Dad, the Universe is nice, but when are we going to have dinner?"]. But it can be expanded with numerous add-ons, enhancing the details of the celestial bodies, adding new objects and also creating completely new worlds, including the Star Trek and even the Star Wars "universes." Who hasn't dreamed of approaching Klingons or approaching the Death Star?

Planet Neptune and Voyager 2 probe
©2005 Celestia
People who prefer taking a back seat can appreciate prepared "tours" through the solar system, or watch "documentaries" about some famous space missions, like Deep Impact or Cassini-Huygens.

All you have to do is to sit and watch.

Installing add-ons and scripts is not exactly a piece of cake for the newbies, but on the Web site as well as in every package there are installation instructions that are usually easy enough to follow.

I have tested Celestia on a computer with a 128MB video card, 2.4Ghz processor and 512 MB RAM memory: a configuration more than acceptable to see planets and stars in full detail and with a good fluidity of movement on the screen.

It's clear that the better the general hardware configuration of your computer, the better the final result will be, especially in terms of fluidity.

Celestia is free of charge, and whether you like astronomy or not, it is surely worth a try.

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©2005 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Roberto Spiezio

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