Hallo Northern

Cartes du Ciel is a good thing, but it's not the only thing when it comes to no-cost planetarium programs, at least not for Windows PCs. A close runner-up in the freeware sweepstakes is Hans Kleijn's somewhat oddly named Hallo Northern Sky. Despite its name, "HNS" is more than capable of displaying the southern celestial hemisphere and doing it with aplomb. HSN can also control just about any telescope through the auspices of ASCOM, just like Cartes.

Indeed, in most ways HNS is very similar to CdC, if not quite as finished looking. Although CdC's display is not overly fancy, HNS's sky is downright plain. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. At 2:00 o'clock in the a.m. on a cold and dark observing field, HNS's display is eminently readable. One other way in which HNS doesn't seem quite as finished as CdC, not to mention commercial programs, is in its lineup of deep sky catalogs. Although the objects included in the larger of two available download packages will last many observers a lifetime, there's not the wealth of specialized object lists there is available for Cartes. Finally, Hallo Northern Sky can download deep sky pictures but not GSC stars. It can access the Hubble catalog, but the user must locate and install a copy.

This is not meant to belittle the achievement Hallo Northern Sky represents; it didn't achieve the status it's attained in the amateur world by being a second-rate program. Actually, some of HNS's features are preferable to those in CdC. For example, retrieving detailed information on an object in Cartes du Ciel requires clicking to open a window, which gets in the way of the sky display. In contrast, clicking on a star, DSO, or planet in HSN brings up an unobtrusive description in the upper left area of the main screen. One other nice thing about Hallo Northern Sky? It is fast, blazingly fast, even on older PCs. It far outstrips Cartes du Ciel in that regard. The current version of HNS is Windows only, but it has reportedly been run under the Linux operating system via emulator software.

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