Viewing Heavenly Bodies | 2017

ūüĒ≠ ¬†Updates an¬†earlier post to¬†include recent changes and information.

As an amateur astronomer, I use desktop planetarium software to plan viewing sessions and keep track of the planets and Moon. There are many products available for all computer platforms and smartphones. A Google search yields links to many sources. I downloaded and use the open source Stellarium on my desktop computer. It¬†can be customized to your location and is free. For Android and Mac phones and tablets, I like¬†SkySafari. It isn’t free.

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.

I limited this post to include only a few select sites and links. Since¬†many are available, it’s easy to be overwhelmed 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. I welcome reader questions or reviews about using these tools or others you find helpful.




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 of the site. There is no need to register or login. Type in a city. 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 for future visits.

Also at the left sidebar are links to many other tools. The Interactive Sky Chart is set to your location and time. Date and time are adjustable above the chart.

After returning to the home screen, I suggest clicking on ISS under 10 day predictions of satellites. It will give you viewing opportunities to see it pass overhead.


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. It is useful to me when following a special space mission. NASA adds features which the program downloads as an update. If you are reasonably proficient with astronomy and technically comfortable, this is a great resource.

There are helpful¬†Tutorials. For best results, I advise using them. Or, jump in and start exploring the Solar System on your own. Try out the controls. 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 are¬†updated as needed.





First time I opened the Planetarium for In-The-Sky, it recognized my location and local time and gave a sky map for it. The controls are simple and adjusted easily. Dominic Ford runs it from the UK. It is worth a look.



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. After that, 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. I’ve not tried it on a phone or iPad.




Motions of the Moon

Our nearest heavenly body is the Moon. 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. Enter a date to see the Moon as it would appear then. You don’t need to change the time entry. If you do want to change it, 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 videos 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 videos. Stop them¬†at any time. Drag the slider in the player. View full-screen for best effects.

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


The northern hemisphere version…

The southern hemisphere version…



10 thoughts on “Viewing Heavenly Bodies | 2017

  1. Thanks for sharing these links, Jim. I’ve often wondered what bright object I am looking at different times of the year – Venus, Jupiter, Saturn??? I was also amazed to realize that the moon doesn’t spin, so we basically see the same view all the time, with a slight wobble/tilt back and forth… and how surprising to see the the southern hemisphere sees the inverse! Thanks for the lesson. ūüôā

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful post Jim! I look forward to checking out the links. I have Sky Safari on my phone. The version I have is free. It can be upgraded to a paid version with more information. Since phones don’t work in the mountains, I carry a planisphere printed on card stock. It is invaluable when planning shots of the Milky Way. It lets me know when I have to wake up. I have given a few slideshows about photographing the stars and always make sure I have copies for kids to put together. They seem to like them. Here is a link.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I also have the free version on an old iPod. It is so old I can’t back up or sync it any more. It keeps chugging along…very slowly. ūüôā

      Your planisphere is very nice. That is a good idea to give them out for kids. It’s a good starting point for them. Simple and easy to use.

      Thanks for stopping by.


  3. I got the book 2017: An Astronomical Year, by Richard J. Bartlett. I use Kindle Unlimited so it was free! It is wonderful for a beginner like me — it takes just one or two highlights for each day and tells you where to look and what you are seeing.

    I look forward to checking out these links too! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a terrific post! Thanks for writing it. Have you ever used the Android version of Stellarium. It costs about $3 US. I like it a bunch, though it’s stripped down aways from the desktop version. It’s handy, though, for quick checks on the sky. I don’t use Sky Safari, but have heard it’s pretty good, too. I really want to encourage the people behind Stellarium to keep up their great work, so I was happy to pay for the Android version.


    • Thank you.
      No, I haven’t used that version. The $3 is a small price to pay for a quality product. Some of those who write the code for the products are really good at keeping things easy to use and yet deliver the more complex info if it is wanted. Others just throw the whole kitchen sink at you with too much info.


  5. Speaking of apps that deliver complex information, beautifully, have you come across the weather app Radar Scope? I paid $10 for the pro version, and I think the only thing it doesn’t do is make the coffee when you want to stay up and track a storm. Once I got it, I realized it was offering the same information I see in screen shots from the real pros. One feature I especially like is the real-time lightning strike information. And, you can select any wx radar from across the country, so if you want to keep up with a relative, or whatever, you can.

    These suggestions are wonderful. Another app I’ve heard about that’s supposed to be very good for kids is called SkyView. It’s too simple for you or most people here, I’m sure — you point your phone at the sky, and it tells you what you’re looking at. But for someone just getting started, and especially for kids you’re trying to get interested in astronomy, it’s said to do the trick.


    • RadarScope is right there at the top of my go-to apps.

      Those hold up to the sky apps are quite cool. There is no excuse for not knowing more about the sky and constellations.

      Gotta be brief and get ready to donate platelets this morning. See you later.

      Liked by 1 person

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