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What is Astronomy Software?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 April 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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The word astronomy comes from the Greek words for “star” and “the knowledge of a field of study.” Astronomy is the scientific study of celestial phenomena and bodies, including stars, as well various qualities and events relating to these phenomena and bodies, such as their position, their size, their motion, their formation, etc. Astronomers are both amateurs and professionals who engage in the study of astronomy, and astronomy software is computer applications used by astronomers specifically for work in their field. There are many different varieties of astronomy software, but some of the most commonly used programs are planetarium programs, CCD (charge-coupled device) camera control programs, telescope control programs, and Astronomical Image Processing (AIP) programs. Astronomy software ranges from free, open-source applications to shareware, to commercial software costing as much as hundreds of US Dollars (USD).

Planetarium programs may chart as much of the sky as possible, or specialize in some specific area of space exploration, such as a particular planet, moon, or group of moons. Some programs are only available for one operating system, but others are cross-platform. Some software manufacturers have different versions for students, serious astronomers, and professionals — presumably the serious astronomers are amateurs. Planetarium programs can show graphical representations of the sky from various positions on Earth over a large number of years, allowing users to print a map to assist with stargazing or to see the sky as, say, Galileo saw it. Some planetarium programs are combined with telescope control, and it’s common to have access to multiple databases.

CCD camera control programs and telescope control programs may be separate, combined, or included in astronomy software with other features as well, particularly image processing. CCD cameras are digital cameras, by means of which light is converted into an electrical charge, the pixels of which are processed by an ADC (analog-to-digital converter). The image is stored on a memory device, as well as output on an LCD (liquid-crystal display) monitor. Telescope control is both tests the telescope’s mounting and provides control for tracking and may be remote or robotic. AIP programs are used to filter image noise, clean-up, and enhance images and may also facilitate the common practice of image stacking to increase signal to noise ration is astronomical images.

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