What program most resembles Megastar but refines the user interface and places a copious collection of deep sky objects in a more full-featured planetarium setting? That would be Earth Centered Universe. Not only does "ECU" carry on the deep sky atlas tradition established by Megastar, it actually outdoes that program for detail. In addition to the millions of stars of the GSC and Tycho star catalogs, Earth Centered Universe throws in over 1,000,000 deep sky objects. Don't get too excited, though: the majority of these objects are insanely dim galaxies from the Principal Galaxy Catalog (PGC) that won't even begin to be visible in anything but the largest SCTs (many can be "seen" with smaller scopes with the aid of a CCD camera).
Unlike Megastar, ECU utilizes ASCOM, which means it can interface with almost any brand of go-to scope, old or new. Clicking on objects on ECU's display opens an information window with sufficient details on each object. One nice idea (provided there's an Internet connection available) is that these abbreviated details can be supplemented by a web search from the info window with results returned in whichever browser is installed on the PC (ECU is only available for Windows). One of the best features of this program is its printed output, which is of astonishing quality. The hard-copy charts produced by this program don't just resemble the best typeset star maps; they actually look better than what's found in some print atlases.
Like Megastar, ECU wraps all this power up in a plain-looking virtual sky, functional but not exactly attractive. Zoom in on a planet and ECU displays a colored dot. The program does offer planetary satellites, however. Although Earth Centered Universe's sky looks much like Megastar's, the user interface used to control the program sticks more closely to the Windows standard and is therefore easier to learn.
Who's likely to be pleased with ECU? Deep sky oriented observers who want the power of Megastar but are more comfortable with the familiar desktop planetarium paradigm. Perhaps the most attractive thing about ECU, though, is its price; at $60 most people can afford to take a chance on this one. ECU's recent development history? There is none. Maybe somedy there will be a successor to the current Version 5.0, but expect the changes to be small. The author appears to have stopped working on this solid but simple and somewhat old-fashioned looking program.
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