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Software Review - Astronomy Plus - Space Software/Avanquest
The night sky is a wonderful place, but it's easy enough to get lost. At the heart of Astronomy Plus is 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. Click on a star or planet and you will get extra information. You can even travel to one. This may be a bit over the top for a star, but the way you travel out to Mars or Saturn is quite magical. 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).
The secondary features are good too. You can find something in space, print off star maps to take outside and more. Each time you start Astronomy, you have the opportunity to download new data, keeping it up-to-the-moment. But in the end you have to come back to what is an excellent planetarium. It's based on the powerful Starry Night (going on occasional references, Astronomy used to be called Starry Night, Backyard Edition) and that pedigree shows through.
A couple of quibbles. The startup, where you specify your home location could do with a lot more cities in it. In the UK, for instance, cities like Cardiff (a country's capital, for heaven's sake) and Bristol aren't in there. Failing that, they could have made the point and click location map significantly bigger - you can only just see the UK! Also, I suspect where the program integrates Quicktime video, you can get a few seconds where the screen goes a blank white. This isn't in ordinary planetarium operation, but typically when you get a bit click happy when moving out into space.
Accompanying the main software (this is the "Plus" bit) is a DVD, featuring four of the segments of the Atlas of the Sky DVD. These are effective short programmes on the sun, the inner and outer planets and the moon, well worth watching in their own right (and also providing a useful taster for the full thirteen segments of the Atlas DVD). It's a nice bonus, though not what you'll buy this software for.
All in all this is a great value piece of software that does what it says on the tin with style. Astronomers who are real enthusiasts will want to go for one of the more powerful Starry Night versions, but for the 95 per cent of us, adult and child who just want to peep out at the stars occasionally and know what we're seeing, this is superb. However, if you can afford just a few pounds more, consider going for the Complete Astronomy and Space Pack, which has the same excellent planetarium but with a wider range of information add-ons, and is probably best of the bunch for this segment of the market.
According to the blurb the software runs on PCs 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