Best Free Astronomy Software

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Introduction

Astronomy Software is a pretty broad spectrum, providing everything from simple mapping software (relative positions of the solar system), through detailed observation planning software to first-person planetarium software.

I looked at several free astronomy programs for producing sky maps and didn't pick a best as I couldn't decide among the three contenders for the top spot. The best for your purposes would depend on your needs.

Index

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Viewers

Aladin  

An interactive sky atlas viewer to visualize digitized astronomical images.


Our Rating: 
5
License: Free
View stars and deep space objects--all of them that have been imaged. Actual images in different wavelengths. Also density maps and other databases. Excellent index of stars and deep space objects. Bookmarks.
No solar system objects.
Read full review...

Sky-Map.org  

An online system to view a detailed sky map with positions and characteristics of space objects.


Our Rating: 
4.5
License: Free
Image viewer of stars and deep space objects. Excellent index of stars and deep space objects. Bookmarks.
No solar system objects.
Read full review...

Planetariums

C2A  

Build detailed views of stellar fields for professional and amateur astronomers.


Our Rating: 
5
License: Free
Great index. Many images in separate viewer. With internet connection can download images from sky surveys of the area in the viewer. Ephemerides for planets, sun, moon, comets, and asteroids. Animated ecliptic view of the sun, planets, asteroids, and comets. Telescope controls.
No satellites, e.g. no International Space Station.
Read full review...

SkyChart  

An excellent open-source program enables you to draw sky charts.


Our Rating: 
5
License: Free (Open source)
Excellent index. Many images. Ephemerides for twilight, planets, sun, moon, comets, asteroids, and solar and lunar eclipses. Variable star observer. Telescope controls.
No satellites, e.g. no International Space Station.
Read full review...

WorldWide Telescope  

A rich visualization environment functions as a virtual telescope to enable explorations of the universe.


Our Rating: 
4.5
License: Free (Open source)
Attractive display. Telescope control available in Windows Client.
No moon phases. Very few asteroids, comets, and planetary moons.
Read full review...

Stellarium  

Provides many visual effects, including the Milky Way, twinkling stars, shooting stars, clouds and light pollution.


Our Rating: 
4.5
License: Free (Open source)
Stars shown in spectral colors. Very realistic displays with atmospheric controls. Telescope controls. Fewer images than either Skychart or C2A.
Few comets and asteroids in the catalog.
Read full review...

Home Planet  

Excels at locating artificial satellites, comets and asteroids with 256,000 stars in its catalog.


Our Rating: 
3
License: Free (Open source)
Excels at comets, asteroids, and artificial satellites.
No planetary moons.
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Astronomy Simulators

Celestia  

A space travel simulator lets you travel throughout the solar system even beyond the galaxy.


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free (Open source)
Excellent space travel simulator. Additional stars, deep space, and solar system catalogs and images available as add in.
Nil.
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Orbiter  

A fun interplanetary space ship simulator obeys the laws of physics.


Our Rating: 
4
License: Free
Numerous space ships both real and fictional available. Many destinations within the solar system available. Obeys laws of physics.
Nil.
Read full review...

Related Products and Links

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Comments

I just downloaded the Celestia Simulator.
It's a great way to look around the solar system and even some fictitious universe. I've had a great time just going around and finding all of the little things in our solar system that I didn't know about.