Megastar5

Megastar, which hit the astro-software market in the early 1990s, has the distinction of being the first really deep astronomy program and featured tens of thousands of deep sky objects and the Hubble GSC from the beginning. The original program, which appeared on CD-ROMs and included fifty 3.5-inch floppy disks, didn't seem too practical at first. But here was a program that could outdo the best print atlas available.

Megastar s author, Emil Bonano, has continued to improve his program as the years have rolled by—if only incrementally of late. One of the more important recent additions to Megastar has been an enhancement of its planetarium features. In the beginning it really was more a computerized star atlas than a planetarium and lacked many of the features planetarium users expect—sky animation and extensive Solar System functions, for example. Even today, Megastar retains its atlas heritage. The program can, for example, zoom in on planets, but don't expect to see planetary satellites or realistic surface details. Bonano has promised planetary moons will be included in a future release, but that promise was made several years ago.

Megastar is not the program to choose if you are mainly interested in Solar System observing or just want a quick look at the current configuration of the sky. Its appeal is to hard core deep sky observers. The base version of the current release, Version 5, includes an impressive 208,000 deep sky objects (mostly galaxies). It also provides "thumbnail" images of some 78,000 DSOs that can be superimposed on star charts (Plate 63). One thing Megastar has that no other program does is the Mitchell Anonymous Catalog. This is a list of 117,000 galaxies compiled by Texas amateur and deep sky observer extraordinaire, Larry Mitchell. Be aware, however, that the "MAC" galaxies are ferociously dim. How do you know if an object is dim or not? A mouse click will bring up adequate if not lavish details on each object. Add to these resources the ability to print typeset-quality charts and facilities for controlling some go-to scopes (via built-in drivers), and it's no wonder the program has been a perennial favorite of the deep sky gang. Stroll across the observing field of the Texas Star Party and you'll note that most of the serious observers are using computers running Megastar.

Megastar s sky is plain but legible, period. Might we expect this venerable program to add more "pretty" features in the future? Maybe, but probably not. Since the program moved from being marketed by the author to being sold by publisher Willman-Bell, continued development has been slow. You're spending the $130 this

Plate 63. (Megastar) Megastar is a computerized star atlas loaded with many more stars and deep space objects than any print atlas can boast of. Credit: Author.

program commands on a tool to help with observing, not something to wow the spouse and kids. Despite its tremendous level of detail, Megastar is, thankfully, easy to learn to operate despite the fact that this Windows-only program uses a nonstandard user interface—probably a hold-over from its MS-DOS days. It's also very forgiving of older, slower computers.

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