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Celestia - Explore the universe Pick of the Week
Celestia imageThe macosxhints Rating:
8 of 10
[Score: 8 out of 10]
If you're fascinated by stars, planets, moons, comets, and the universe in general, you owe it to yourself to check out Celestia. This amazing free Java program lets you zip about the universe, displaying amazing pictures of various celestial bodies -- there are some great shots in the Celestia Screenshot Gallery. The program knows about our solar system, comets, over 100,000 stars, and even additional galaxies. If that's not enough, you can download even more from the Celestia Motherlode site.

To get a sense of what you can see in Celestia, launch the program, and then press 'D' to enter Demo mode. Then just sit back and watch the show.

You can fly throughout the Celestia universe with the keyboard, accelerating to some truly amazing speeds -- you really get a sense of the scale of the universe when you see how long it takes to move somewhere, even traveling at a rate measured in light years per second. Click on any object to find out its position, luminosity, and other related data. Zoom in and out on local objects to see some amazing surface details. And if those surface details look fuzzy to you, it's probably because the default texture resolution is set to "low." To fix this, go to the Preferences, and set the Texture Resolution pop-up to Medium or High.

I've only had one issue so far with Celestia: it just won't remember my texture resolution settings. So each time I launch the program, I have to reset them to High to see the pretty pictures. This is apparently a known glitch in 1.3.2, and is fixed in the not-yet-finished 1.4.0pre6 version. That's the good news.

The bad news is that this build was released in January of this year, and no final version has yet to be seen. Digging around on their forum site, I found another unofficial build, this one from July of 2005, with some specific OS X enhancements. I haven't tried either version yet, but will do so shortly. As a general statement, Celestia development seems to have slowed dramatically -- the News section of the site was last updated in February of this year, and 1.3.2 was released in March (I believe).

Update: A reader emailed me a link to an unofficial Celestia Download Center, where you can find version "1.4preFT1.1ish," dated October 13th, 2005.

Finally, if you run Celestia on Windows or Linux, you'll get some features the Mac version is missing, including movie capture, and a star and solar system browser. Like some other Mac versions of Windows apps, Celestia is missing some features. But that doesn't change the fact that this is still an amazing program...
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  • Currently 2.22 / 5
  You rated: 3 / 5 (9 votes cast)
 
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Celestia - Explore the universe
Authored by: styrafome on Nov 08, '05 07:19:08AM

This is a really fun program. I've had it on my hard drive for a long time. My only issue is how it totally pins my G4 CPU whenever it runs, more than any other app does.



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Celestia - Explore the universe
Authored by: jhoke on Nov 08, '05 09:00:43AM

I've been using this on linux for quite some time and it is a great application... along the same lines, does anyone know of any good software for Macs to use my DSLR with a celestron scope?



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Stellarium - something similar
Authored by: notmatt on Nov 08, '05 09:42:59AM
Also on an astrological track, Stellarium is open source software for displaying the Earth's sky. No cosmic voyages, but it does draw constellations just beautifully.

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astrological -> astronomical
Authored by: notmatt on Nov 08, '05 09:45:03AM

Whoops. I was thinking about the constellations and got my adjectives confused. My horoscope said it there might be some embarassing moments this month.



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Celestia - Explore the universe
Authored by: MilMascaras on Nov 08, '05 11:39:41AM

Freezes my OSX 10.4.3 machine 5 seconds after launch, everytime. Seems like it is starting to work, then my clock stops ticking, then mouse stays alive for about 15 seconds, then total freeze up. My machine is expertly maintained, and tight.



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Celestia - Explore the universe
Authored by: RussellK on Nov 08, '05 12:40:56PM

I had the same problem on my G4 1.25 GHz running 10.3.9 (and my system is obsessively clean too). The readme file contains a troubleshooting section with the suggestion to remove the "#" before a certain line in the config file (I won't pretend to undestand the programming technicalities behind this)...I followed these instructions and the program now runs perfectly for me.



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Celestia - Explore the universe
Authored by: lamon on Nov 08, '05 01:54:47PM

This comes from some ATI graphic cards not understanding a specific OpenGL extension. If you uncomment that line, you disable the use of that extension (for a small performance penalty) and it works.

Remember, the more powerful your video card, the better. It will work better on a NVidia card since the developers are on NVidia.



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Celestia - Explore the universe
Authored by: dirkpitt on Nov 27, '05 07:46:33AM

While it's true that the lead developer is employed at NVIDIA, on the Mac the situation is a bit different and some NVIDIA-specific render paths don't work even on NV30+ cards. And while it's true that very recent cards are obviously much better for Celestia use, the crashing bug is due to a very specific bug in the driver for the ATI Radeon 9000/9200 cards and has nothing to do with your video card being too old; for example ATI Rage cards don't lock up. In fact, recent video cards still cannot perform OpenGL 2.0 rendering correctly on OS X while on Windows it's beautiful *sigh*



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Celestia - Explore the universe
Authored by: tombert on Nov 10, '05 12:56:47PM

Thanks for the hint. I took out the # on the "ignoreGLE" line and it works ok for me as well.

---
Tombert



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Celestia - Explore the universe
Authored by: tombert on Nov 10, '05 12:36:53PM

I also have encountered the big freeze, everytime. Freezes my entire Mac so I have to reboot - I can't roam the universe, but have to re-boot. Re-moved the app from my Mac.

I am running on a Dual G4 Tower, 1 GHz, OSX 10.3.9, with 1.75 Gb of RAM.

I don't think this app is quite ready for prime time......

---
Tombert



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Celestia - Explore the universe
Authored by: dirkpitt on Nov 27, '05 07:35:11AM

Hi, I'm a developer for Celestia. The lockup, as mentioned by other posters, is caused by a bug in the drivers for a small subset of graphics cards and has a known workaround. Yes, it is Apple's and ATI's fault, not Celestia's. I've tried lobbying Apple but apparently they have either found the bug not worth fixing or don't know how.



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Celestia - Explore the universe
Authored by: area51 on Nov 08, '05 01:14:45PM

When I go to the International Space Station (ISS) in Celestia, the Earth rendering looks really bad.. I know there are ways to fix this by downloading higher resolution Earth textures but I have no idea how to go about doing this in Celestia. Has anyone done this (in particular the blue marble NASA textures)?



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Celestia - Explore the universe
Authored by: Gfx on Nov 08, '05 03:52:12PM

To get more textures (greater resolution, night, clouds, etc) you can go to the Celestia Motherlode site as pointed in the original posting. Plenty of textures, 3D models, ships (some are truly amazing), even whole systems lies there. Some files are purely fantasy while others are based on newly discovered celestial bodies and stuff and are made by very serious people.



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Celestia - Explore the universe
Authored by: derekhed on Nov 10, '05 04:31:32PM

I installed the 2001 "discovery" package. Any idea how to find the ship? I _think_ I did everything right...



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Celestia - Explore the universe
Authored by: Gfx on Nov 08, '05 03:55:44PM

Oh, I forgot. To get the earth to show "nicely" when viewed from ISS, you'll have to put an amazingly high texture on the earth that will probably put your Mac to a crawl. These textures exists put you have been warned :)

But, by all means, feel free to experiment. ;)



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Celestia - Explore the universe
Authored by: area51 on Nov 09, '05 11:10:56AM

Yeah it would be cool to see this in action. :)



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XEphem
Authored by: BrettTaylor on Nov 08, '05 05:25:05PM
If you are interested in doing more astronomy and less pretty picture gazing (not that there's anything wrong with that), check out XEphem. It is a serious astronomy program that probably does more than most people need, but it has lots of neat tools for the professional or amateur astronomer. You can certainly build your own copy or download a binary.

XEphem's web page

XEphem dmg (from Apple Downloads)

The version at Apple's Downloads is a bit older than the current version, but if you're not into compiling your own or using Fink, you'll be stuck a bit behind the times (not that most people will notice)!

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Celestia - performance enhanced via use of Shark
Authored by: hayne on Nov 09, '05 09:18:55AM

Of particular interest to developers is the fact that Apple used the Celestia application as a demo of performance enhancement techniques. The following page provides links to a modified version of Celestia and discusses how its performance was improved by using Apple's free analysis utility "Shark":

http://developer.apple.com/tools/sharkoptimize.html



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Celestia - Explore the universe
Authored by: dirkpitt on Nov 27, '05 07:25:43AM

Hi, I'm a developer for Celestia. Great to see Celestia mentioned here. Note that for the record, Celestia is not a Java program - it has a C++ platform-independent core, with an Objective-C Cocoa GUI for the Mac. Anyway, Celestia is getting a lot of changes lately so visit http://www.shatters.net/forum/ often for new versions. We hope you enjoy this great program!



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