There are billions of stars and galaxies out there. Every time you look up at the sky, you see these stars glowing, moving, and changing. The vastness that lies beyond our planet earth has fascinated people for centuries. It is believed that early cultures gathered huge artifacts for astronomical purpose and in addition to using them for ceremonies, they were used as tools for observing the sky and predicting the seasons. This observation helped our ancestors greatly when it came to planting crops and even hunting to an extent.
These days Astronomy has turned from a tool to a separate branch of study. It is a science dealing with the study of celestial objects. This also includes studying the chemistry and physics of various stars, planets, and galaxies that are millions of miles away from our Earth. From Ptolemy to Galileo, many astronomers have contributed their own knowledge to this field and have literally changed the way in which we view the world.
Astronomers are required to have knowledge in various fields including physics, chemistry, and mathematics. Apart from having a keen eye in the sky, telescopes make up the standard repertoire of these celestial explorers. Of course, not every budding astronomer can afford a full-fledged telescope. In that case, however, there are various tools and software that help them study the stars without spending a dime. Our very own Ubuntu Linux too offers such tools thus making astronomy easy and accessible to everyone. If you're a professional astronomer or a budding stargazer, these applications surely will come in handy in your profession. So, without much ado, here are some of the best astronomy applications that can be easily installed on Ubuntu (and other Linux distros):
Stellarium is a free software that turns your computer into a virtual planetarium. Serving as a valuable educational tool for studying the night sky, this OpenGL-powered application can accurately calculate the positions of the Sun, the moon, and the stars and show us how the sky will look on a particular day. Another cool feature this application offers is that it allows you to simulate astronomical phenomena such as meteor showers and solar/lunar eclipses.
The application is used by professional astronomers and comes with a catalogue of over 600,000 stars. There are also extra catalogues that comprise more than 210 million stars.
SkyChart, as the name suggests, lets users draw sky charts. The application comes loaded with a database of over 2.8 million cities. SkyChart offers Galactic and Ecliptic chart projection along with superimposed survey charts over a digitized sky. The main use of this application is to prepare different sky maps for specific observations.
Virtual Moon Atlas
Virtual Moon Atlas is a free application that lets astronomers and stargazers study the moon and its surface. Once installed, you'll be able to study moon's features by pointing simulated telescopes at the moon's surface.
As a start, you are shown a 3D lunar globe of the moon that can be rotated, zoomed into, and navigated as per need. Virtual Moon Atlas lets you study lunar formation with a unique database of more than 9000 entries and 7000 pictures. Furthermore, you'll also find 34 scientific overlays along with some high-resolution textures thus making it a professional software. Virtual Moon Atlas has been used in the preparation of the Chandrayaan 1 lunar mission.
Celestia is a free space-simulation software that works in real time. As compared to other planetarium software, Celestia stands out by letting you travel to all the planets, stars, and galaxies of the solar system. Thus, you're not restricted to your home planet as you are while using other software. Compatible perfectly with both KDE and GNOME, Celestia displays the Hipparcos Catalogue consisting of almost 120,000 stars. What's more, you can also capture high-resolution pictures and movies while traveling through space making it easy for you to share what you saw with the world. Celestia works perfectly across all platforms including Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.