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Some time ago, I bought a spotting scope for birdwatching. I soon realized that it can also be used to watch planets and some brighter galaxies. Having seen the rings of Saturn with my own eyes was almost a life changing experience.
That’s nice and all. But where to look? What is what?
Stellarium is a great planetarium and it’s free software. It can simulate the view you’re actually having. That bright dot over there? It must be Jupiter.
Technically, it can put you in a position “above” our sun, so you can see our planets and their orbits. But it’s not optimal:
To my surprise, I couldn’t find a nice, simple solar system observer for Linux. XEphem can do it, but it’s a really complicated program. It’s too much for me.
Funny enough, when you search Google for “linux solar system observer”, the first result is my own asciiplanets. That’s a little tool I wrote some years ago for the exact same reason: I couldn’t find another tool to do the job (and I felt like doing it as ASCII art).
Of course, an ASCII version is barely optimal, either. So, I ported it to OpenGL:
It’s accurate because it uses pyephem. Except for the black obstruction cones: They are a very rough approximation and are supposed to tell you when it’s impossible to see a particular planet.
Still, I find this little tool very helpful. It gives you a good overview. “What’s the current position of our planets?” That’s the question this tool tries to answer. If you need higher precision, go for Stellarium or XEphem.
There you go: