PROS / Virtual Planetarium is like several software packages in one and comes with free games.
CONS / It lacks customizable toolbars and telescope control.
VERDICT / This application is perfect for a more relaxed approach to astronomy.
Virtual Planetarium, developed by Space Systems Incorporated, is a multiple-title stargazing software package, replete with different astronomy programs, which are geared to assist amateur home-based (and classroom-based) astronomers. From interactive sky maps and a huge library of astronomy imagery to information on the solar system and the most recent information on space events and weather, Virtual Planetarium is perfect for those new to the pursuit of celestial exploration and is another product we're please to include in our astronomy software review.
The Sky Tonight, the star chart portion of the Virtual Planetarium astronomy software package, helps you easily find constellations in the night sky, as well as find planets and other deep space objects. A 2D chart with basic graphics, it is basic in design with minimized control (hit “Play” and the sky chart scrolls automatically across the night sky, displaying a basic overview of the constellations and objects in your vicinity).
Solar System is the portion of the Virtual Planetarium astronomy software package that gives detailed information on every planet in the solar system, as well as information on select deep space objects and basic information on comets and asteroids. Select Jupiter for example in the toolbar at the top of the screen, and view Jupiter’s stats, high-resolution images of the planet, information on its moons, and much more.
Space Weather is their program that explores the weather in space, with a helpful introduction to what space weather is, including space weather forecasts, auroral forecasts and information on the emissions and gases emitted by the various planets in our solar system. You can find information on dozens of space missions that have occurred as well in this astronomy software, which were aimed to further explore various weather elements, such as studying the magnetosphere.
And Astronomy, the star and object database program that comes with the astronomy software Virtual Planetarium, teaches you the basics of star types (Birth Nebulae, Young, Life, Death Low Mass, and Death High Mass), showing high-resolution photograph examples and detailed explanations. Clusters (Globular, Open), Galaxies (Spiral, Elliptical, Irregular, Magellanic, Groups, Active), Deep Space (Deep Field, Explosions), and Universe are the other categories, with hundreds of photos to peruse.
Another cool feature of the Solar System title is the selection of movies. Various movies are included that further illuminate our solar system’s planets and deep space objects. Learn basic to extended planetary information in a relaxed, fun way. Past and current space missions (including satellite missions) to planets can also be explored in Solar System, as well as viewing planets and deep space objects in 3D.
The Space Weather package includes movies of the Aurora Borealis (filmed in Alaska) and educational animations that show how and why this phenomena occurs.
To contact the manufacturer of Virtual Planetarium, Space Services Inc., phone and email support are available on their site. They also offer a newsletter, which keeps you up-to-date on the latest space missions.
While the various programs within Virtual Planetarium make it an odd duck, as a whole, it’s an adequate astronomy software package brimming full of celestial information, quality imagery, and more unique information like space weather. We’re happy to include Virtual Planetarium in our astronomy software review and encourage all budding astronomers to definitely check it out.