This is a listing of (mainly free or not expensive) astronomy-related software that I find helpful or interesting.
- Deep Sky Stacker. Load your light, dark, flat, bias frames and DSS will align and stack them. This is usually the first step for processing your images. Make sure you download the latest updated executable otherwise your DSLR RAW files might not be recognized correctly.
- Dark Master. Instead of shooting new darks for every session, you can point Dark Master to where your new flats are and your compilation of old darks, and it will temperature-match them and create a DSS script file. Open Source software.
- Registax. Free software that can process hundreds of mediocre frames from a webcam video of a planet to produce a great image by stacking and wavelet-based sharpening. While the latest (v6) has more advanced wavelet sharpening, it sometimes fails, so also have v5 at hand in case it works better with your video. One hint for v6: try just 1 align point with a planet.
- PIPP – Planetary Imaging PreProcessor. Free software with various helpful functions, including doing the alignment so that Registax cannot fail, while converting .mov to .avi etc.
- StarTools. Not free software, but it is probably the only “budget” astrophoto processing software of its quality (plus the demo version has full functionality except save, so if you are not too fussy a screenshot might be enough for you, at least until you decide it is worth it). Its philosophy is completely different than any other software out there, which might be a good thing for beginners or people who find other software packages as difficult – it actually tries to automate as much as it can, leaving you with moving sliders. Cross-platform.
- PixInsight. This is a favorite for many astrophotographers. Unfortunately it is very expensive, but you can get a time-limited Trial license to see if it is for you. There was a very old windows-only free version called PixInsight LE which did have some powerful features (like Dynamic Background Extraction), but it is no longer distributed officially. Cross-platform.
Telescope Control / Guiding
- PHD2 Guiding (OpenPHD). The most popular auto guiding software for PC and Mac. Relatively simple and powerful.
- Metaguide. A different approach compared to PHD, aiming at even tighter guiding, however even PHD fans often use Metaguide for collimating their SCTs.
DSLR Camera Tools
- EOS Camera Movie Record. Free windows software to capture your Canon DSLR’s 5x liveview in video, which is the best way to do planetary photography for most Canon EOS models.
- APT. Astro Photography Tool for Windows is an inexpensive program for controlling your DSLR or CCD imaging session.
- BackyardEOS/BackyardNikon. Similar in purpose to APT, but more specialized towards DSLRs and a bit more expensive.
Planetarium & Sky Charts
- Stellarium. Very complete, free, open source, cross-platform planetarium type program. Multiple plugins extend functionality. Looks good and is easy to use.
- Cartes du Ciel. It has even more features than Stellarium, but its user interface is more “awkward” and in general it does not look as “pretty”. Also cross-platform and open-source.
Space Simulators & Space Games
- Space Engine. Free space simulation program. It looks amazing and allows you to explore the known universe by procedurally generating parts that are not known (i.e. planetary systems etc).
- Orbiter: Space Flight Simulator. Free space flight simulation. It has improved a lot over the years and allows you to recreate historic space flights or try new ones.
- Celestia. Ground-breaking in its first years of development, it is now surpassed by the newer Space Engine. However, it is cross-platform, so non-Windows users will appreciate it.
- World Wide Telescope. Recreates the view of the entire sky using astro-images from both Hubble and ground telescopes. if you don’t have Windows there is a (Silverlight) web client.
- Universe Sandbox. A newtonian physics / gravity simulator. The new version does not have a free version, but you can still get the original version and try out the included simulations for free.
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