Your Own Planetarium

Courtesy: Clay Kessler
One of the first things that people want to know on learning about exoplanets is "Where are they? Can I see them?" You won't be able to see the planets, of course; astronomers won't have photos for decades, but you can locate and even see (if you can tear yourself away from the computer one night) some of the stars about which these planets orbit. In this section we will see how you can make your own planetarium show from free software on the web.

It is clearly a chore to slog through the 60,000+ entries you will get on a Google search on "planetarium software"; many are by people selling such products. Here are the sites for three possibly neutral reviewers; the first helpfully lists costs (if any) and existence of a free demo:

In addition, we have found Students for the Exploration and Development of Space to be a generally useful reference site from Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.

We have not been able to test many of the planetarium programs available, but if you want a nice PC Windows program, we can recommend the free Home Planet by AutoCAD creator John Walker. John apparently has far-ranging interests, and this is one of his gifts to us. Two other PC recommendations (free demos, cheap full versions) would be SkyMap or CyberSky. Starry Night is recommended for Macs. Do searches on the names to find the appropriate version for your operating system. There may well be updates available that include exoplanet coordinates; otherwise you will have to enter them yourself. The coordinates are available at Princeton University