Ever since writing about making DIY serial communication cables for Meade telescopes (DS-114 / DS-115), I have received bundles of questions from budding astronomers wanting to know more about the free telescope automation software shown in the post.
Amateur astronomy really comes alive when telescopes are combined with quality star and planet tracking software.
After calibration of your telescope, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, or how much you know about astronomy. Telescope tracking software makes it easy to just click on a virtual celestial object of interest (on your computer screen) and your telescope motors are off to automatically find and motion track the real thing in the night sky. Life for an amateur astronomer suddenly becomes far more interesting and all too simple when you have full reference to unlimited viewing options in front of you!
We use and really like Sky Chart (Cartes du Ciel). The software is FREE and of high quality. It can be downloaded from the Sourceforge.net opensource community under the standard GNU General Public License. (Be sure to check for software updates. Stable and Beta versions of the download are available.)
Sky Chart enables fully automated motor drive capabilities on a wide variety of telescopes after a simple setup process. It provides well featured real time sky maps generated from any number of selected and comprehensive celestial databases. Additional facts and in-depth information on each object in the night sky is also at your fingertips, which adds lots of opportunity for more fun, interest and learning in astronomy.
Obviously, there are numerous commercial astronomy software packages available out there too, many of which come supplied with (or as add-on options for) higher level telescopes. But frankly, we prefer free Open Source software which comes without expense and are grateful to the Star Chart software authors for creating such a great program!
If you are remotely interested in astronomy and haven’t tried telescope automation beyond the limitations of a Meade Autostar handset (or equivalent) as yet, the free Sky Chart (Cartes du Ciel) is well worth checking out!