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Viewing the Night Sky with Linux, Part I: KStars - page 3

KStars, Your Celestial Tour Guide

  • August 28, 2008
  • By Akkana Peck

Moving outside our solar system, try for the Lagoon nebula in your binoculars. Search for it by name ("Lagoon") or by its Messier catalog number, "M 8", in KStars' Pointing->Find Object.... Be careful with spacing -- KStars isn't picky about capitalization but it does insist on the space after the "M". The Lagoon is in the constellation Sagittarius, which looks like a teapot; the nebula is the steam rising from the teapot's spout. Can you see the nebula in binoculars? It does sort of look like steam, a faint fuzzy smear -- not much like the Hubble Space Telescope picture of it. You can see the HST photo and lots of other views in KStars by right-clicking on the nebula.

There are some great star clusters nearby: M 7 in the tail of Scorpius is a good binocular target. Then see if you can find the fainter M 6 just above it.

One thing I love about KStars is its beautiful star views. Notice all the different colors? Stars really are different colors due to varying age, size and composition, from red Antares to white Vega. Try searching for "Albireo", then zoom way in to see an example of a beautiful double star where the components are two different colors. Seeing the two colors is easy in a telescope but difficult in binoculars. Albireo is easy to find, though: it's the southern end of the Northern Cross, or the eye of Cygnus the swan.

One more project. Try for something a lot farther away: the Andromeda galaxy (M 31). With really dark skies you can see it with the naked eye, but you'll probably need binoculars if you live near a city. That's a trillion stars you're looking at there ... a whole separate galaxy a lot like our own, but bigger.

There's plenty more to see. Try a web search for binocular astronomy, then use KStars to help you find each object. There are dozens of celestial objects you can see with binoculars, hundreds visible with a small telescope ... with a little help from your Linux desktop.

Akkana Peck is a freelance programmer and writer and the author of Beginning GIMP: From Novice to Professional. �She's also a long-time amateur astronomer.

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