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Date: NA
Price: free
Requirements: PC running Windows 3.1, 95, 98, Me - Pentium (recommended) - 32MB ram
Description: Free charting software from Orion.  Stars to magnitude of 6 and deep sky objects to 12 are charted.  Many other features for the visual observer.

Review

This is a free program that Orion ships with every telescope that they sell.  For this reason my expectations for it were not that high.  When I received my telescope I simply threw the disk to the side and forgot about it.  A few days later I decided that I would give it a shot.  Installation was painless and quick.  After entering some cursory information such as observing location and time I was ready to go.  The interface was simple and intuitive I was an expert after 10 minutes.

Features

The program is simple enough to run effectively on almost any fairly new computer.  In other words you wonít have to go out and buy a new computer or drop $100.00 of ram in your current one.  It features stars down to about 6th magnitude and most other objects (Messier and NGC) down to about 12th magnitude.  On top of this it allows you to greatly customize your view.  You can add constellation lines and boundaries as well as change the names and labels on specific objects.  Although it is not quite as detailed as some of the more expensive programs for the beginner and visual observer this is an excellent piece of software.

The software will display information on any object that you click on.  There are also 50 or so picture of the best objects in the sky.  Other features include tracking of the sun, moon, and Planets, as well as a monthly moon calendar, search features, and the ability to add notes to any objects description.

Actual Use

Surprisingly, contrary to my initial feelings about the program I actually do use it a lot.  It is really nice to quickly print out a chart for the night.  I can pick the portion of the sky that I want to observe and create my own sky tour.  The best part of this is that you donít have to deal with $50.00 star charts so you wonít feel bad about writing all over them or dropping it in the wet grass.  I like to print off a chart with all of the stars and objects with the equatorial grid.  I then circle the objects that I wish to find and write quick notes as to what they actually are.

Negatives

The major problem with this program is the simplicity of it.  Observers who have large telescopes or photographic ambitions will probably outgrow it very quickly.  Like I said this is primarily intended for the visual observer.  The other problems are that it does not include the Milky Way or stars past its very limiting magnitude.  A zoomed in star field may only contain one star, this is not terribly useful when looking for specific objects in sparse sections of the sky.

Conclusion

Overall, what are you going to really complain about the software is free.  I find it extremely useful for charting and quickly finding what is in the sky at any given time.  The negatives really donít bother me because I am a visual observer and the limiting magnitude closely matches what I can see from the city.  Sure if I lived under dark skies I would probably have a better program but this is a great start.  On a scale of 10 I would rate this program a solid 7.5.

Submitted by Curt Irwin - irwincur@excite.com - Grand Rapids, Michigan

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