Linux for Astronomers

Unfortunately, the weather doesn't always allow for observations. So, what can you do if you have been stuck away from the telescope for days on end? Distro Astro includes a number of sky chart programs to allow you to plan out your future observations. They also are really useful for budding astronomers. You can use packages like Cartes du Ciel to learn about the sky above your head. And there are several other options, including Stellarium and Celestia. If you are more interested in deep sky objects, there is a package called Where is M13?. This package shows objects from several catalogs, such as the Messier, Caldwell, Collinder or NGC catalogs. The unique feature of this software is that it can locate these deep sky objects in three dimensions. That way, you can start to get a feel for where in space these objects actually are.

Figure 6. With Carte du Ciel, you can learn more about the sky.

Figure 7. Where is M13? lets you see where deep sky objects are located around you in three dimensions.

Part of science is outreach, sharing your findings with others and inspiring them. One way of doing this is by putting on a planetarium display. This is a way to expose a large number of people to the wonders of the sky all at once. Several different software packages are included in Distro Astro that can talk to planetarium projectors. Packages like Celestia and OpenUniverse can be used with non-fisheye projectors. If you have a more professional fisheye projector, there is a modified fork of Stellarium called Nightshade Legacy that is included in Distro Astro. The original version of Stellarium also is included, giving you some choice in what is available.

With Distro Astro, you now easily can set up that observatory computer or configure a machine to do your research runs on. And, with a live CD option available, you have no excuse to keep you from downloading an ISO and giving it a try. And with all of the packages included, you should be able to burn a CD and run with nothing else to install.


Joey Bernard has a background in both physics and computer science. This serves him well in his day job as a computational research consultant at the University of New Brunswick. He also teaches computational physics and parallel programming.