Spring 2018


The Night Sky in Your Computer: Astronomy Software

Explore software, computer simulations and apps that can further your understanding of observational astronomy. Master a free, powerful open-source astronomy program called Stellarium that will help you follow the motions of the sky, learn the constellations, and plan for and carry out the observation of deep-sky treasures—not to mention practise the art of star-hopping. Learn, too, about the types of deep-sky objects of greatest interest to observational astronomers and how to locate them in the night sky.

In this hands-on course, we’ll work on our computers and smartphones to apply what we learn. Particularly if you’re a visual learner, you’ll find this course highly effective and practical.

Note: Requires a laptop capable of running Stellarium; check requirements at www.stellarium.org.

A $62 discount will be applied automatically for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1: Setting Up and Customizing Stellarium

We’ll learn how to set up Stellarium and add powerful plug-ins that will enhance your learning and observing experience. We’ll also take a tour of the constellations that are visible at this time of year, and in other seasons. You’ll be able to use the software to effectively plan for an observing session with a telescope or binoculars. We will also use Stellarium to learn the motions of the sky at various points on earth, which will contribute to your overall understanding of the celestial sphere.

Week 2: Locating Deep-Sky-Object Treasures Using Stellarium

We’ll explore the types of deep sky objects that are visible to amateur astronomers, such as globular/open clusters, galaxies, planetary/reflection/emission/dark nebulae, quasars, and variable and double stars. We’ll learn when best to see these objects and how to find them in Stellarium and the night sky. We will also learn how to add additional objects to Stellarium, such as comets and asteroids.

Week 3: Complementary Software to Stellarium

We’ll learn how to use two online websites that will complement Stellarium – the AAVSO chart plotter and Aladin (an interactive photographic mapping of the entire sky). In addition, we’ll learn how to locate asteroids using a telescope and various software and web-based tools. We’ll also take a look at various animation simulations to help improve our understanding of astronomy concepts such as the motion of constellations and moon phases.

Week 4: Mobile Apps for Astronomy  

We will focus on various apps (most of them free) that are effective learning tools for observational astronomers. They can also be used to locate objects in the sky, such as Iridium flares and the International Space Station, and to predict when Jupiter’s moons will cast their shadow on the planet, an event visible in a backyard telescope. Some of these apps are also great tools for learning the constellations and helping you get the most from your observations.

Week 5: Starhopping and Telescope Basics

We’ll learn how to 'starhop' to various deep-sky objects using Stellarium’s ocular plug-in, which simulates what the view would be like through any given pair of binoculars or telescope/eyepiece. We’ll also learn how to chart paths to objects and the telescope basics needed for starhopping. We’ll learn how to draw field-of-view circles to match actual views, and strategies on locating deep-sky treasures.

Week 6: Observation Resources and Putting Together an Observation Session Plan

We’ll apply what we’ve learned in the course so far, and create a plan for a night of observation. We will then use Stellarium’s ocular plugin to starhop to those objects. In this final workshop, we’ll also review the various observing quick-references and guides the instructor has created, and he will provide access to these. Weather permitting, we’ll plan a field trip to complement what we’ve learned in the course.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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