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Megastar 5 Sky Atlas Software

Posted by Glen Ward   10/22/2007 12:00AM

This is a review of the Willmann-Bell software Megastar 5. I am an enthusiastic user of this software. I am unable to post pictures, but screen shots and even a sample version of the program are available at .

This is without a doubt the greatest program I have ever seen for use with a telescope out under the stars. Everything about this program is optimized for the greatest utility. It is designed in a completely logical fashion. It is not designed to be a beautiful planetarium program for the general public, but rather it is made with one purpose - to be used as a charting program by an astronomer at the telescope. In this, it succeeds wonderfully.

The program has an amazing list of included objects. It has the expected Tycho and Hubble star catalogs, but also odd catalogs like Terzin Globulars, Mitchel Galaxies and at least 7300 quasars! If the 15 million included stars arent enough for you, the software can utilize the US Naval Observatory catalog, giving you several hundred million stars - a catalog so big it took me 30 hours to download it on a good DSL line! The software seems to be unusually adept at displaying galaxies in their true orientation, which makes the dimmer objects a bit easier to find. Overall, there is so much included that if you find an object which is not plotted, you should seriously consider whether you have discovered something new.

The program includes an excellent hardbound manual with storage pockets for the disks. Although these days I am glad to see software which actually still includes a printed manual, it is hardly needed. The interface is completely intuitive and the best way to learn the software is to spend an hour or two just clicking on features. One can customize the toolbars, and everything is designed to be usuable in red screen mode out in the dark.

There are far too many features to mention them all, but some of the best include cusomizable onscreen circles to show your eyepieces' fields of view, and easily adjustable magnitude filters for all kinds of objects. There are myriads of options for choosing the orientation of the view. The software can also easily search its databases and center you on any object. All of this is easily accessible just by clicking buttons on the toolbars, and despite all the choices, it never seems overwhelming or confusing. The design is completely logical.

The software has the ability to display images for at least 200,000 deep sky objects with the optional Supplemental Image CD, which is well worth the $20 it costs when purchased with the program. The program is also capable of interfacing with various computerized telescopes.

One other point in the program's favor is that you do not need to take your brand new $1500 laptop out on a cold winter's night. The program requires only a Pentium and Windows 95, allowing it to run on most any old computer you might have around.

I think Megastar 5 is one of those items which every astronomer should own. It is so good that I do not feel any need for another newer sky charting program. Megastar has everything needed and I expect to use this program pretty much forever. It appears to be something of a labor of love for its designer, Emil Bananno, and he should be congratulated for creating something so functional and valuable for the astronomical community.