Free Materials For Teachers

Image©2008 ABS Earth and Sun from Mars screenshot from Stellarium
Earth and Sun From Mars Surface
Do you know somebody you care for so much you’d like to give them the sun, moon, and stars? Now you can! Just give them the URL to download Stellarium, a FREE planetarium you can run on your computer.

I first found out about Stellarium when I looked at the UCET October 2008 newsletter. I immediately went to the Stellarium site and downloaded the program to try it out.

Update – I checked out the Stellarium link today, May 2017, and it’s better than ever! They have added many more features, and some that were extra plug-ins are now part of the main application. One area that has expanded tremendously is the set of available backgrounds you can download FREE to make the experience truly authentic. There are also more scripts for popular events such as eclipses that come already installed.

Image©2008 ABS Saturn screenshot from Stellarium
Saturn and Moons From Asteroid Vesta

What Is Stellarium?
Stellarium is a free open source planetarium for your computer. It shows a realistic sky in 3D, just like what you see with the naked eye, binoculars or a telescope. It is being used in planetarium projectors, but it’s totally awesome on your computer screen. There are versions for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux (the source code).

Download And Install Everything
Once you have the file downloaded, just run the installer for computers running Windows 98 or later. For Mac OSX 10.3 or later, the download is a disk image. You’ll have to mount that to drag the application into your Applications folder. Be sure and download the PDF format User’s Guide as well. The basic Stellarium file has 600,000 stars, but if that’s not enough, you can download some add-on star catalogs to bring it up to 210 million stars!

Image©2008 ABS Earth And Sun Behind Mars From Phobos screenshot from Stellarium
Earth and Sun Rising Behind Mars From Phobos

Start Exploring
Once the program is installed, start exploring the universe. Everything is moving in real time, so if you leave it in the evening and look back in the morning, the sun will be rising. When you click on anything, the information about the object is displayed immediately.

You can set it to center on a selected object and zoom in smoothly. Alternately, you can zoom in any direction and watch the stars and planets move. For example, if you go about halfway out to Saturn, you’ll see the planet and all its moons move swiftly past against a slower but moving field of stars.

Image©2008 ABS Great Nebula in Orion screenshot from Stellarium
Great Nebula in Orion

Stellarium has vast numbers of stars, nebulae, and the planets, so it’s like a real interstellar journey, with more and more stars coming into view as you zoom into the sky. In my first hour of playing with it, I went to the moon, Saturn, and Sirius! I’ve also seen the Great Nebula in Orion up close.

Deep Space Photos
As you close in, you are rewarded with beautiful deep-space photos. The planets and nebulae are my favorites, but it’s a lot of fun to zoom toward what seems to be a single star and see it resolve into two stars once you are closer.

Many Viewing Options
I’ve only explored about one-thousandth of what this software can do, yet I’m astounded already by its power. You can turn the atmosphere on and off, to compare the clarity of observing from a planet or in outer space. Of course, with the atmosphere turned off, you can see the stars at noon! You can have a realistic horizon, as if you were outdoors at night, or turn off the ground and feel like you are suspended in the void.

Image©2008 ABS Constellation mythology art screenshot from Stellarium
Mythological Figures of the Constellations
You can turn light pollution up or down, and realize how few stars we can see these days in many cities.

Star Mythology From Many Cultures
You can outline and label the constellations (they call them asterisms now), or turn on star art to see the mythological figures people once imagined. And you aren’t restricted to the Greek constellation myths we are familiar with. There is a section on star lore and constellation stories from just about every culture on earth!

Go To Another Planet
You can also set the observation location to another planet. I’ve seen what the sky looks like from Mars, for example, and looked at Saturn’s ring from inside it. You’ll want to make lots of screenshots to use in your classroom! Whether you use Stellarium as a tool for teaching astronomy, or just to explore, it’s an incredible experience. But don’t take my word for it. Go and download this amazing program, and take your class to the stars!

Application needed: Stellarium
Subject area:Science.
Level: Teacher resource.


Download the Stellarium software for your operating system, plus the User’s Guide, from:

November 5th, 2008 at 4:15 am
3 Responses to “Stellarium”

  1. 1
    Dinell Says:

    Great stuff Ann! I bought a similar program for my son a couple of years ago called Starry Night. It is not free, but it is very affordable with lots of add ons too. I would have loved to have these kinds of learning opportunities when I was a kid! WOW!
    Thanks for sharing!
    Dinell Stuckey

  2. 2
    Steve Says:

    I was looking for pictures of the sun as seen from Mars and came across your page during that search. I’ve been using Celestia for the last couple of years but it can be very temperamental at times with the way it handles graphics (which gets frustrating) and also mouse control in that prog is not intuitive. I’ve only just discovered Stellarium through this page and it feels like I’m late to the party but WOW. I’ve just had a quick 5 minute look at it and had to come back to tell you I’m still picking up pieces of jaw bone from the floor.

    Wow. Just, wow.

    Thankyou for helping me find this.

  3. 3
    admin Says:

    Steve, I’m glad you found Stellarium useful! Many of the users of my site work with early elementary level students, so using Stellarium directly might be too difficult for many of those kids. But using it to generate images like the sun seen from Mars is a way for a teacher to prepare a set of images from which students could write exciting stories.


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