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Viewing the Night Sky with Linux, Part I: KStars

KStars, Your Celestial Tour Guide

  • August 28, 2008
  • By Akkana Peck

What's that super-bright star in the western sky after sunset? Was the moon full last night? Is Mars visible now? What time will the sun set on Saturday?

Do you ever look up at the sky and wonder about it? Your Linux desktop has lots of astronomy programs that can help you explore the night sky. This article will start with the one that's easiest to use: KStars.

KStars is a nifty "planetarium program" that's probably available through your Linux distro. Don't let the "K" scare you off -- kstars works fine even if you're not running KDE.

When you first run kstars, you'll be presented with a setup wizard. Choose your city from the list, then move on to the Download Extra Data Files screen. KStars has lots of extra catalogs you can download, but getting them is a little tricky, because after KStars installs each one, it pops up a dialog underneath the "Get Hot New Stuff" window then waits for you to click OK before you can go on. Move the upper window aside to see the OK button.

Once in the sky view (Figure 1), you can drag the view around just like Google maps, and zoom in and out with the magnifying glass icons or with your mousewheel. The ground shows up as solid green, to help keep you from getting lost. If you want to get rid of the ground to look at something that's currently below the horizon, there's a button in the toolbar to toggle it off.

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