A&B Computing1st November 1984
Published in A&B Computing 1.11
There are a number of programs around for the BBC and Electron at the moment to aid the watcher of the night sky. From a hobby and an educational point of view, the computer can be a great help in this area. Star Seeker goes further than any of the programs so far, as far as the information stored, graphical representation and documentation to explain what you are seeing are concerned.
The documentation takes you through the program options (and there are many) step by step, from loading the programs, specifying your location (longitude and latitude) and time (+ or - from GMT) to getting a close-up of a certain part of the night sky or getting information on one of over 300 stars in the Stardata file.
Anyone who is taking up the hobby of star gazing from scratch will find a fair amount of introductory information and explanation of terms. With a good book from the library, Star Seeker could prove an effective way to cut your teeth.
First thing with a star map is to specify direction of view (N, S, E, W, O), the latter is Overhead. You can also specify more precisely in degrees. The starmap is constructed and a number of options listed in a menu. L lists constellations spotted, C constructs a constellation map, with names and the option to print out the plot (so you can take it outside with your binoculars and do it for real). I gives information on any plotted star. The star is chosen with cursor keys and COPY. Information includes the accurate position of the star in the sky, its brightness, the name of the constellation, its distance in light years from earth and the times at which the star rises and sets.
U updates the position of the stars in the sky at hourly intervals (caused by the rotation of the Earth). S stops the option. D allows access to another viewing direction, T another time of night, N a new date or location and E a quick exit from the program.
The documentation relates what you can see on screen to the real night sky and offers a number of ideas on how to use Star Seeker to gain information on what you have seen or to plan your watching in advance.
A second program, Solar System, provides information on the Sun and Moon. Options one to nine provide information on brightness, position in the sky, rising and setting and so on. Option 10 deals with sunrise and sunset. Option 11, the same for the moon. Options 13 and 14 show positions and other information on Hailey's Comet in relation to other bodies. Scaling can be changed and orbital motions followed. It is all very comprehensive and impressive. The graphical plots take place in a central window with information displayed to either side. The print option for Epson RX and FX80 printers is very welcome indeed and increases the program's already considerable worth as an educational tool.
Star Seeker is certainly worth a look if you already take your astronomy seriously or if you are looking for a new hobby for the winter. I would also recommend it as a resource for the family (it is a part of the home discovery series after all) or the school. Both programs are written by Dr. Paul Phillips of the London Planetarium and if you don't fancy a trip to London, Star Seeker will bring the computer equivalent into your home.