FUN: Star Trekking

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Science  29 Jul 2005:
Vol. 309, Issue 5735, pp. 677
DOI: 10.1126/science.309.5735.677a

Tired of the unchanging view from your office window? Feeling trapped in the lab? Perhaps you need a quick excursion to Mars, where you can sidle up to its lumpy moon Phobos. Or maybe you'd prefer to visit Betelgeuse, a red supergiant star 600 light-years away in the constellation Orion. You can complete both expeditions during your lunch hour with Celestia, a free space-travel simulator created by software engineer Chris Laurel of Seattle, Washington.* The program, which builds on NASA images and astronomical data from sources such as the Hipparcos star catalog, lets you tour the solar system and voyage to more than 100,000 stars. Enthusiasts have crafted hundreds of programs that boost the number of objects you can visit and add more detail to ones already in Celestia—for instance, one offers a high-resolution view of the sun's surface complete with solar flares. Download these supplements at the Celestia Motherlode. It can take practice to master Celestia's controls, and the program requires a powerful graphics card to display all features.

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