The Universe

Bluegray got me hooked on Stellarium. This is great for anyone who has had a go at a telescope at night and is quite realistic. Maybe it’s strength is it’s weakness, or maybe I don’t know how to use it yet.

Has anyone had a look at Celestia? It’s a bit more exiting for someone that does not have much knowledge in this area, (like me) as the graphics are better and you are not stuck on planet earth. You are able to travel through the Universe much like the series they have on DSTV. You are also able to download a wealth of add-ons to make your experience more exiting. You can even explore fantasy galaxies or take a NASA tour of the Universe.

I don’t know much about both of the applications to make an assessment, but check for yourself.

Compare screenshots here: Stellarium vs. Celestia

Hi Sentinel,

I’d like to have a closer look at Stellarium and Celestia before saying which one is better/easier.

If you haven’t already done so, have you thought about attending a basic astronomy course through the planetarium? They have regular ones here in Jhb (if you’re up here), and I see they’ve introduced one in Cape Town.

Astronomy Course for Capetonians Prof Brian Warner (UCT) will present "The cosmos: an introduction to our universe", an 11-week course in basic astronomy. This "blended learning" course was developed with the late Tony Fairall, and sounds very interesting. Register by 13th March, course starts 26th March. Details at

I went to one last year and thoroughly enjoyed it, I was also very pleasantly surprised at the number of people attending - the planetarium was quite full. Anyway, I can at least identify a few more objects in the sky.

Clear skies :wink:

Thanks mdg!

I moved away from Jhb a few years ago, but I still go up there to visit clients and friends. I will definitely look into the course you suggested. (I need it, because I get lost up there… badly!)

As far as which is the best: (I’ve had a quick look at both now)

Stellarium is a much more realistic simulation, as you specify where (on Earth) you want to stand with your telescope. You can then zoom and move around as you would with a real telescope.

Celestia is different. First of all, you fly around the Universe like Superman, or you can download a space shuttle or even the Starship Enterprize to fly around in.

The textures used for planets etc are much better and you can download even better ones. For instance, the Sun is a yellow body with sunspots but you can download a different Sun that has surface texture, sunspots and animated solar flares. The application is small (30-40MB), but all the add-ons total to about 12GB. (You don’t need all of them or any of them for that matter).

In addition, you have an educational version (400MB - 2GB) with tours of the Universe, including sound. You can watch the birth and death of a star, and they are currently working on a Big Bang simulation.

One thing I would have liked is the ability to specify a GPS location on earth, so that I can compare it to our sky (like Stellarium), but I suppose that’s like having your bread buttered on both sides.

I’m glad I have both.


PS. The rendering technology in Celestia has a few bugs. Make sure you update your graphics card software first.

Thanks for the tips Sentinel, I’ll check both of them out over the weekend.

Something else you may be interested in is Galaxy Zoo. They’re into their second phase now, but you can still participate. A group of scientists are classifying the different types of galaxies by searching through the images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey; because there are so many to go through you can help by looking at the images and classifying the galaxy according to it’s type.
There have been some interesting discoveries by participants, for example “The Voorwerp” -

Expect the Unexpected — The Voorwerp One of the most exciting discoveries from the original Galaxy Zoo was something we never expected. Hanny Van Arkel, a Dutch schoolteacher and Galaxy Zoo volunteer, posted an image to the Galaxy Zoo forum and asked "What's the blue stuff below?" No one knew. The object became known as the "Voorwerp" — Dutch for "object". The original images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey couldn't tell us what it was, so we took follow-up telescope observations, in optical and ultra-violet light, as well as measurements from the Swift satellite. The Mystery of the Voorwerp Deepens!.

The images are stunning, plus you get to do science! 8)


Since installing Celestia is a one liner in Ubuntu, I gave it a spin :wink:
It is quite fun to use. As you said, you fly around like superman through the universe, quite different from Stellarium’s fixed position on earth. I guess it depends on what you want to use it for. If you want to see how the universe looks from earth, use Stellarium, if you want to explore and travel to other stars do it with Celestia!

I sometimes use Stellarium or StarryNight to plan gazin’ sessions, but still mostly rely on deep space atlases (yep, books! ;)) and a small red light when out in the field.

Celestia sounds like fun on cloudy nights though, and I’ll definitely give it a closer look. Thanks for the link Sentinel.


It’s a pleasure!

Although I find Celestia to be a lot of fun, Stellarium has got me interested in standing outside at night, looking at the stars; something I would never do without a fire and a beer.

It made it easier for me to identify stars etc.

I downloaded both Stellarium and Celestia (one those came with an ugly “search here” page hijacker, which I’m having trouble removing) By setting the date and time to system time and googling my current longitude and latitude and using F6 to change those settings I’m supposed to see what Stellarium shows me, but I’m not 100% sure I can identify the stars correctly (also only able to see East - South facing position on stellarium - what books or other info/resources can I use to gain a handle on this? I’d really like to be able to identify some stars with certainty.

Are you able to activate the control panels on the left and bottom of the Stellarium screen? They should pop into existence when you move your cursor over the area. From there you should be able to toggle constellations, star labels etc. on and off. Moving around the heavens should be a click and drag exercise. Clicking on a celestial object should open up an information box in the top left hand corner.;attach=1004;image

;D Stupid me, yeah I can rotate 360° by click and drag, thanks that helped a lot, I’m only just starting to play around with this, would really love to find Venus and the Southern Cross tonight,

It seems like I will need to learn a bit of maths, I only know a bit of algebra and calculus from my accounting studies, where can I learn how to plot and find/read star charts/what maths must I know, trig maybe? Any amateur astronomer type courses/books available on this? I only wish to be able to identify at least the major constellations and well known stuff like the southern cross, venus, Jupiter and would I be able to find Beetlegeuse with the naked eye as well? Able to see those on Stellarium.

Don’t see why this should be a necessity if you just want to learn your way around the sky. In the summer you will see fewer stars, but brighter ones. In the winter the skies are dense with many fainter stars.

May I suggest following the moon as it waxes (go from new moon to full). This will next happen between 30 Jan and 15 Feb. The moon is easy to find, and makes a good starting point. You will find it sets almost with the sun initially, and as the moon grows older, it sets later and later every night. You can use Stellarium to see in which constellation the moon will find itself on any given night - it moves through about 1 zodiacal constellation every 2 days. Use it as a pointer to learn the most prominent naked eye stars in its vicinity.

You can’t miss Jupiter. It sits in Gemini at the moment (to the right of Orion) and is by far the brightest thing in that part of the sky. Have a look through your binoculars and you should be able to see its moons. Zoom in on Stellarium to see their configuration tonight.

I’m afraid Venus at present will be a challenge to see unless you have a very low horizon and are out of the feathers at 04h00. :’(

Much of what you’ll be able to see depends on cloud cover and light pollution. From the suburbs you may still easily make out Betelgeuse, Rigel, Bellatrix and Saiph, the 4 bright “corner” stars in Orion, and probably also the 3 belt stars, Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka.

Thanx so much, that was a really insightful and thoughtful reply.

Well, you may yet regret going down this avenue. The night skies can be immensely moving and addictive. You may soon find yourself walking around like a zombie |-O in the daylight hours sporting a semi-permanent head cold. Only to go back for more …


Yeah, I’m kinda feeling like a zombie, thank goodness it’s just from being tired and not from partaking in the flesh and blood of Zombie Jebus >:D… bwahaha… ;D

You can also zoom in and out in Stellarium. Use the Pgup and PgDn buttons. It is best to take you computer out with you at night (there is a night mode, makes all the lines red), Compare the sky with the screen. Very easy to learn this way.

Awesome, way easier on the eyes at night! I’ll have to play around with this quite a bit, looks like this apps learning curve’s gonna be a blast ;D