Starry Night Pro 6.0

As always, great educational software and Macs go hand in hand. Version 6.0 of Imaginova’s mature Starry Night Pro offers many new features aimed at enhancing this already robust astronomy product.

Starry Night Pro 6.0 displays 16,000,000 stars and over 1,000,000 galaxies, viewable from any location on Earth (or from planets and moons in the solar system) from 99,999BC to 99,999AD. The background panorama displayed at the startup location can be changed; this update offers eight new Earth panoramas, twelve lunar panoramas, and even a couple of Mars panoramas. And now background sound is supported. You can choose between six sounds: a meadow, birds, crickets, freshwater, surf and wind. All are quite relaxing, and do enhance the viewing experience.

Finding a specific object can be daunting for a newcomer to Astronomy, but Starry Night 6.0 makes it easy. Just enter the object to be located in the Find tab, and search all of the cross-indexed databases (cross-indexing the databases for a search is another feature new to version 6.0).

A concern for astronomers, at least those that work in the visible light spectrum, is light pollution. Light and air pollution are reasons observatories are typically in isolated sites away from populated areas or based on mountains. Starry Night Pro 6.0 supports local and distant light pollution – simulating lights of large northern and small southern cities – to demonstrate how local lights affects star gazing.

How do you know what special celestial events are happening in your area? Use the Daily Events Reminder in the Events tab to view a list or watch the selected event on-screen in Starry Night. Events can be exported as a text file for later reference, and since the date range is user-selectable, it’s easy to plan future observing sessions.

New dimension

Another new addition to Starry Night 6.0 is the inclusion of more 3D spacecraft models. Follow the flight paths or zoom in and pan around to see the external aspects of 25 spacecraft. New Horizons is one of the new spacecraft and the destination for that craft was recently in the news. New Horizons was launched in January 2006 and will pass Pluto in July 2015, but the International Astronomical Union (IAU) recently reclassified Pluto as a dwarf planet, reducing our solar system to a paltry eight planets. A number of astronomers have weighed in on this decision and arguments for and against Pluto’s planet status will probably rage on long after the piano-sized probe passes Pluto for the Kuiper Belt.
Starry Night Pro 6.0 also has 3D models of comets, asteroids and satellites. Ceres, currently classified as an asteroid, may be reclassified as a dwarf planet. If NASA’s pending Dawn mission leaves Earth in 2007, it will arrive at Ceres in February 2015. There could be two missions arriving at dwarf planets (Pluto and Ceres) within six months of each other. Speaking of satellites, there are 830 satellites – for communications, GPS, environmental monitoring and research – that can be tracked in Starry Night Pro 6.0. No, spy satellites are not included.

Reach new heights

Some important additions in version 6.0 to mention include the ability to print star charts to take on excursions when no Mac is at hand. Imaginova also printed the user manual for this release, instead of including it as a PDF. To help view 1,000+ lunar craters and valleys, Starry Night will outline them on screen to aid recognition when using a set of binoculars or a telescope to see the moon. And another new astronomy subject – extrasolar planets – is covered: locate over 160 extrasolar planets with Pro 6.0. Remember when the Mars Rover Spirit wandered and photographed part of the red planet? Use Starry Night Pro to view the sun set over the Gusev horizon. Just like being there.
Although there are few commercial players in the Mac OS X astronomy software market, Imaginova has invested a lot of time to keep this the premier astronomy application for the Mac platform. There are several versions of Starry Night: Complete Space and Astronomy Pack, Enthusiast, Pro, Pro Plus and Astrophoto Suite. The company offers an upgrade path within the same version or to a different version of Starry Night, and produce and sell other astronomy educational videos, an adventure game and a screensaver.

OUR VERDICT

Starry Night Pro was already a mature and powerful product, but version 6.0 has seen the addition of many great new features. Parents and students will find this software an indispensable tool for science class or just for recreational learning and fun. This application is great for anyone curious about our universe. Highly recommended.

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