The kids and I recently visited a local planetarium which turned out to be a great segue into more star gazing fun. Living in an urban environment in an especially overcast part of the country doesn’t help our chances of seeing a lot outside so I decided to augment with Stellarium, an open source planetarium application. I got everything installed on their laptops and created a quick tutorial. I printed out this month’s sky map and let them search and look at the stars that would be visible outside. Knowing their way around the sky map will help as the weather warms and we’re able to spend summer nights looking up at the stars.
Set Location and Time
Type Fn-F6 to bring up the Location window. Start typing “Toledo” and then selection “Toledo, United States.” Hit Esc to close the window. You location is now set to the our area.
Type Fn-F5 to bring up the Date and Time window. The program will default to the current time. If it’s during the day then then sun will be too bright. Choose a time like 2:00 AM. Hit Esc to close the window.
You can click the mouse and drag to spin your view – left/right/up and down. You can also use the arrow keys to move. To zoom in and out, use a two finger scroll on the trackpad.
Type Fn-F4 to bring up the View window. Select the “Markings” tab. Under the “Constellations” heading, select “Show lines” and “Show labels.” Hit Esc to close the window. You can now view the constellations in the sky.
You can simply click on an object in the sky to select it. The name and information about the star will appear in the upper left corner. When you have an object selected, hit the space bar to center the view on that object. You can then zoom in.
You can also hit Command-O to zoom in like you would with a telescope. Hit Command-O again to return.
Using the Sky Map
The Sky Map printout will show things that are viewable for this month in our sky. To search for something by name, type Fn-F3 to bring up the “Find Object or Position” window. Type the name of the object and hit return. The program will then center to that object. You can either zoom in or hit Command-O to see it up close.
If the program zooms you to an area that shows grass the object isn’t in the sky the whole night. You need to adjust the time forward or backwards until it become visible.
In the “View” window under the “Sky” tab, look for the “Light pollution” setting. Increase and decrease to see what effect city lights have on being able to view the stars. Set the lowest number for the best viewing.
In the “View” window under the “Sky” tab, select the “Show planet orbits” box and then zoom out to see what path the planets have as they move across the sky.
In the “View” window under the “Sky” tab, find the heading for “Labels and Markers.” Make sure all three checkboxes are checked. Slide each one a little bit to the right to see more labels appear for objects.