Be Master Of Your Celestial Domain


(Sky from Duluth, MN 7:30 p.m. tonight — created with Stellarium)

Unless you had access to dark, rural skies and a northern horizon, the forecasted aurora was probably a bust for you. After watching a movie with my kids, I drove out to the country and scanned the north around 1 a.m. A very low greenish arc, punctuated by a few faint rays, was all that could be seen. I imagine that folks at higher latitudes — Scandinavia, Alaska and Siberia — probably saw a much nicer display.

From time to time, you’ll see maps on this blog showing constellations and their associated mythological figures. They’ve been created using popular "planetarium style" software programs. These allow a user to see the sky day or night from anywhere at any time on the planet. You just plug in your city, select a time and away you go. They’re a great way to learn the constellations as well as identify which planets are out. You can even go back or forward in time to see the sky when you were born or in the year 2215, when porkchop sideburns will be in style again. Many are available for a modest cost and some are free.

One of my favorite free programs is Stellarium, a frame grab of which is above. It’s available from stellarium.org for both Windows and Mac. You’ll find the appearance of stars and the foreground landscapes very realistic. Navigating the program is easy as you drag the sky around with a click of the mouse. Once you start it up, click on the crescent wrench icon near the bottom of the screen to set your location and other particulars. And since it’s a Saturday, you’ve got time to download, install and play. Enjoy.