Mick Pope was the Educational Technologist for the Physical Sciences with UniServe Science and now works for the Bureau of Meteorology, Melbourne
Planetarium software: a comparative review
A Planetarium package is a sky visualising program, that simulates the movements of the stars, planets and other objects across the night sky. The benefit is obvious, no excursions required. Students and teachers have access to the visible universe on their desktop.
The quality varies widely in terms of what is available, especially in the shareware/freeware category. The older it is, in general the poorer the quality, due to the limited display and processor power that the early versions had to contend with. The basic features these days include: toggles, labels, constellation lines, etc; zooming in and out; animation; set location of observer; limit stars by magnitude; mouse driven; click on object for information, eg. a star's magnitude. A quick straw pole of Australian academics revealed how they considered them useful to:
What can be learned depends in part on the features provided, but also on the imagination of teacher or student. Whilst no replacement for observations, it can be a cheaper alternative for undergraduate classes.
A rough comparison was done with the following scale used;
This was judged on content (information available), manuals and online help, interface (menus, pop-lists, mouse button use), and screen issues (animation speed, toggles). Short comments list the pros and cons of the packages. As one would expect, Windows programs tend to be better than the DOS equivalents as these were written later for machines with better graphic and computational capabilities. However, not all of the Windows programs make the most of what is available to them.
Earth Centred Universe ***
Home Planet ***
Planet Watch **
SkyGlobe (Win) ***
Astro * 1/2
Starry (Starry Nights) **
UniServe Science News Volume 6 March 1997
Page Maintained By: PhySciCH@mail.usyd.edu.au