Viewing Heavenly Bodies

ūüĒ≠ This post updates one published earlier in order to¬†include recent changes and information.

As an amateur astronomer, I often use desktop planetarium software to plan viewing sessions. There are many products available for all computer platforms and smartphones. A Google search yields links to many sources. I use the open source Stellarium on my desktop computer. For iPad, iPhone, and iPod, I use SkySafari.

Online planetarium sites are popular and offer many features. Below are highlights of some I find interesting. Each has multiple features, a unique look and feel, and different levels of detail. They can help satisfy your curiosity about astronomical events.




Heavens Above

This popular site offers a wealth of sky viewing options. It is simple and very easy to use. Your first visit to Heavens Above should include Configuration to change your viewing location using the link in the left sidebar. Type in a city near you. Click Search. If you wish, drag the red marker to be more specific. Click Update at the bottom. Bookmark the site for return visits. Heavens Above will remember your location.

I suggest clicking on ISS under 10 day predictions. It will give you viewing opportunities. Also try Sky Chart. You can update the local time and the size of the chart. Moon, planet, and comet information is readily available.


Eyes on the Solar System

From JPL at NASA, this is one of the most powerful simulators available. It is accompanied by rich graphics and top of the line accuracy. Eyes on the Solar System requires a download.

There are helpful¬†Tutorials. For best results, I advise using them. Or, jump in and start exploring the Solar System on your own. You won’t break anything. Explore the planets and their moons. Bookmark the Eyes site and check back for new features, tours, and news. Their menu choices of are¬†updated as needed.




Neave Planetarium

Neave Planetarium is more intuitive and asks that you basically jump right in and try it. After it opens, it is important to click near the center of your open window. Very gently move your mouse to travel around the sky. Click, or press Space Bar, to stop moving. Then, you can move the mouse over an object to identify it.




Motions of the Moon

Not really a planetarium, the animation Dial-a-Moon from NASA shows the geocentric phase, libration, position angle of the axis, and apparent diameter of the Moon throughout the year. Give it a few extra moments to load. Enter a date and time to see the Moon as it would appear then. Universal Time UT can be found here for your location.

The most obvious change in the Moon is the sequence of phases which occur during each orbit. This animation accurately shows the level of detail possible in a computer simulation. The shadows and features are based on the global elevation map developed from measurements by the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).

The Moon’s orbit is not circular. It¬†appears a little larger during the time it is closest to Earth. Watch the size vary in the video below as the Moon goes through the phases during each orbit. It keeps the same side facing toward us. Notice the wobble, or libration. There is a lot going on in the video. Stop it at any time. Drag the slider in the player. View full-screen.

Follow this link¬†for my detailed explanations of each of the Moon’s motions.


The southern hemisphere version…



I limited this post to include only a few select sites and links. There are many available. It would be easy to overwhelm readers with too much information. I hope these few of top quality will motivate you to investigate the sky and enjoy what it has to offer.


5 thoughts on “Viewing Heavenly Bodies

  1. It is amazing how many quality resources are available. Dial-a-Moon caught my attention particularly, and I bookmarked it for my own lunar exploration, a little later in the year when the work days are shorter and the nights longer.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You came to mind recently when I was looking at the eastern sky early in the morning (still dark) … A very bright star … then two others nearby caught my attention. Looked for several days but never tried to find out what I was seeing … thoughts? …. (as I work to get back into the swing).


      • Many thanks … and I knew you would fill me in. Awesome. Looking forward to hearing about Cuba … a week ago, we returned from a wonderful trip. Currently doing a series of posts on the trip … but I won’t over do it.


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