Virtual Moon Atlas

For years the "Lunatics" wondered, "When will somebody do a TheSky for lunar observers?" It took a while, but over the last five years several programs aimed at Moon watchers have appeared. The best of them is this freeware offering from the author of Cartes du Ciel, Patrick Chevalley, and lunar expert Christian Legrand.

What these two men have done is nothing short of amazing. They've developed an astro-soft that features an interactive Moon map with detail on a level comparable to hard-to-find resources such as the Lunar Aeronautical Charts and far beyond the print atlases most amateur lunar observers had been using. Being able to zoom in until a crater fills the display is not all "VMA" can do, either. It provides extensive labeling and information on features, allows users to display lunar images with the click of a mouse, and even lets Moon fans navigate a go-to scope around the lunar landscape. Best of all, like Cartes, VMA is free.

There are only a couple of not-so-hots with VMA. One is the size of the thing. The complete "professional" package with all picture libraries requires a download of 496 megabytes of data. In this day of broadband, that's not too bad, but it is a barrier for people who are still on dial-up. Because of the large size of this offering, Chevalley and Legrand are offering a CD version for 20 Euros. If that doesn't appeal, less graphics-laden but still useful versions are available. Another problem for some users will be the display adapter requirements of Virtual Moon Atlas. Although it will run on so-so video cards, the program really needs an Open GL graphics adapter to provide the clearest, most detailed views of Luna.

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