"My mother always talked to me a lot about the sky. She liked to watch the clouds in the day, and the stars at night... especially the stars. We would play a game sometimes, a game called, what's beyond the sky. We would imagine darkness, or a blinding light, or something else that we didn't know how to name. But of course, that was just a game. There's nothing beyond the sky. The sky just is, and it goes on and on, and we'll play all of our games beneath it." - Steven Spielberg's Taken
Have you ever wondered what stars, planets, and constellations are up there in the Maysville Kentucky sky at a given time? Maybe you've recently bought a telescope and are wondering where to point it. If so, then you need the free new computer program called Stellarium.
Everything in this program seems to be made with the purpose of stunning the user. As soon as the interface is loaded, we are projected into an extremely realistic countryside scenario: wonderful green grass surrounding some barns and farmsteads, a clean blue sky in which we can see some rare star names, and below the symbols of the cardinal points. Though designed by a French programmer, it looks a lot like the Maysville countryside. Some other information is available on the screen: date and time, location and, at the bottom, a series of buttons controlling the visualization and the general appearance.
For example, if we press the button excluding the atmosphere, the sky will suddenly turn black and a large number of trembling and pulsing stars will appear. You can add constellation outlines, or even drawings of the constellations. Clicking the "Configurations" button and choosing the "Locations" tab, you can even change the view to Maysville's sky to see what stars, planets, and constellations are available right now, then use the time controls to see what can be seen in the sky tonight.
At 10 pm, looking East from Maysville, you can see the planet of Uranus. Though clouded by the Sun, at 7 am tomorrow morning, the planets Venus, Mercury, and Saturn will all be in the same general location in the sky. My favorite, and the thing I'll probably go out to see tonight, is the Maia Nebula, which is set to make an appearance around 1:30 am.
Be warned, the greatest thing about this program is also what makes it not work on every computer. It presents the sky in amazing graphic detail, and as such you'll probably need a newer computer with a decent graphic card and a decent amount of memory to run it. Also the locations map is a little small. Maysville is in there as a selectable town, but you have to poke around for it. If you don't have much patience, you might want to settle for a nearby city like Cincinnati. But if you can manage all of that, it's well worth it as this program turns the computer into your own private planetarium. Great for educating the kids in a fun way. Did I mention it's free?