Wednesday, July 27, 2005
A New Toy
I've been busy with beginning of Semester stuff and a few deadlines, so the blog has been quiet. But thanks to Stuart I've been introduced to a new toy. It's a photorealistic planetarium program called Stellarium. A screen shot is reproduced here. It is gorgeous, it is wonderful it gives wonderful sky views and best of all it is FREE!!!
But, and there always is a but isn't there, it is painfully S L O O O W. It is glacial. This is probably due to all the photorealistc rendering they do. My favorite CPU hog, the 3D spaceflight simulator Celestia (run, don't walk, to this site NOW) is positively zippy by comparison. When these guys say you need a fast CPU, they are not kidding. Even setting the time in the program is a series of painful waits (it is almost, but not quite, worth the effort to set up scripts to turn Celestia into a planetarium program).
So I won't be giving up SkyMap any time soon, if you want a free Sky Charting program for astronomical observation, then try Cartes du Ciel. But if I want to impress visitors with demonstrations of the sky, or generate photorealistic horizons for my web page, then Stellarium is it.
I've noticed quite a large difference in performance between different PCs. One laptop I've used (great for taking outside at night) can cope very well with it while another runs a bit slower. I know someone with a desktop PC that finds it extremely slow.
I think it is probably related to the graphics card. I think Stellarium uses OpenGL to render the sky. If your graphics card supports OpenGL it will take the brunt of the work and things should be smooth. If it doesn't, your computer's CPU is left with the hard work - bringing the system to a crawl.
Still fun though.