Celestia – or – You went where on vacation?
“There is something new: A globe about the size of a grapefruit, a perfectly detailed rendition of Planet Earth, hanging in space at arm’s length in front of his eyes. Hiro has heard about this but never seen it. It is a piece of CIC software called, simply, Earth. It is the user interface that CIC uses to keep track of every bit of spatial information that it owns – all the maps, weather data, architectural plans, and satellite surveillance stuff. Hiro has been thinking that in a few years, if he does really well in the intel biz, maybe he will make enough money to subscribe to Earth and get this thing in his office. Now it is suddenly here, free of charge…”
Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson, 1992
Celestia, in the author Chris Laurel’s words is, “The free space simulation that lets you explore our universe in three dimensions”. Available for Windows, Linux and OS X, the free, open-sourced Celestia uses OpenGL to create a 3d planetarium in which to explore our solar system in it’s entirety.
Within minutes after installation, I was able to load up the known universe and float amongst the stars. When celestial faster than light travel began to get tiresome, I locked into a geosynchronous orbit above California and accelerated time until one minute of real time displayed a day worth of time in Celestia and I watched the satellites in orbit around the earth weave their chaotic dance.
Addons expand the experience, allowing Celestia users to create shareable packages of celestial objects, making limitless expansion possible. Uses have already created mdos to give such experiences as traveling through tactical simulations of the Borg invasion of Wolf 359, following the comet Halley through it’s historic near-earth pass in 1986 or even travel backward in time 4 billion years to witness the planet “Orpheus” catastrophically collide with Earth to form our Moon.
I only imagine what someone with a practical working relationship with astronomy could do with such a potent tool.
I bet they could even find Uranus.