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Software Review - Starry Night: Pro - Space Software/Avanquest
For many, astronomy is more than just a matter of popping out and taking a peek at the stars - it's a serious hobby, and the Starry Night range is simply the best software we've seen to support that legion of amateur astronomers. The "Pro" heading here is a little exaggerated - Starry Night: Enthusiast is for amateurs with telescopes who do astronomy regularly, but not too heavily. This, the Pro edition, is for amateurs for whom it's a serious hobby that takes up a fair amount of their spare time.
It's much more than a planetarium, though as we'll come back to, it's still a great way to find out what's what in the night sky. There's a 192 page book (the Starry Night Companion) which isn't great, but you can't complain as it's effectively free. There's SkyTheater, a DVD of mini-features covering around 2/3 of the excellent Atlas of the Sky DVD, and there's Starry Night itself. The stunning planetarium has much more information than the even the Enthusiast version - showing an incredible 16 million stars (500+ million online) and nearly a million galaxies. there's the excellent Sky Calendar that details all the upcoming notable events you will be able to see, and around 100 superb interactive explorations (30 more than Enthusiast). Oh and there's a neat astronomical dictionary, plus a "fly around" spaceship feature like Deep Space Explorer. The Pro edition is also unique in having an Ephemeris generator, providing location data for any object over a specific time span, and 180 degree, full sky charts.
Despite all the bells and whistles, Starry Night remains at its heart an excellent planetarium program that brings up on your PC or Mac a view of the night sky that is simply brilliant. It's a clear, crisp, image, the controls are mostly intuitive and some of the extras are a delight. Constellations can be brought up in stick form, or (for the major ones) with a very effective graphic image. The program shows you the view from home (or anywhere else), and monitors real time to show you the view now (but of course you can move to another date and time at will). Pro can cope with an amazing range of dates from 99,999 BC to 99,999 AD. The secondary features are good too. You can find something in space, print of excellent star charts to take outside and more.
Perhaps most impressive, if you have an appropriate hi-tech telescope is that the Pro version of the software can control your telescope, pointing it at the object of your choice. You need a serial port and RS232 cable, and not every telescope is supported (there's a list at the end of the review of those supported in early 2005, but check the Starry Night website www.starrynight.com for the latest support list.
There's also a Pro Plus Version with even more data and images - most notably a stunning mosaic of 20,000 full colour photographs providing a view of the whole night sky.
If you take astronomy seriously, but not quite to this level, see more on Starry Night: Enthusiast. If you aren't such a serious astronomer, but find the night sky fascinating, consider the more basic but still excellent planetarium software, Astronomy Plus, or for just a little more the more information Complete Space and Astronomy Pack.
Inevitably Starry Night is going to be compared with Redshift. Each has benefits. Redshift wins hands down on price, and beats the cheaper versions of Starry Night on features. By the time you get to the Enthusiast version of Starry Night it has the edge on features, and the Pro version, with facilities like direct telescope control and much bigger date range is better still. Starry Night also has the edge on ease of use. But if you want power combined with value for money, Redshift is unbeatable. (Also check out the new version of Redshift with telescope control).
According to the blurb the software runs on PCs (Windows XP) and Macs - we have only tested it on PCs.
The DVD is only available in region 1/NTSC format. This will work with most PCs with DVD players, and on multi-region and NTSC supporting DVD players (including more recent Playstation 2s), but will not work on quite a lot of European (PAL) DVD players. Check the compatibility of your player!
Reviewed by Brian Clegg
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Last update 05 June 2007