Get off the Sofa – Stellarium a beginners guide to the software with videos and instruction

Virginia creepers are turning red, evening light drops noticeably, a chilled breeze tosses  leafs around the garden . Thoughts of winter constellations and log fires warm my heart as we lean towards autumn.  Magnificent Orion is slowly making a return  with its extremely detailed nebula, a sketching target of mine.  Once several years ago I saw it in a very dark sky , the detail was outstanding even in my 8 inch dob. I observed what looked like cracks  in the molecular cloud, it was so totally mesmerizing  however my view was  soon eliminated by fog creeping up and over me .  A drawing  to look forward to attempting  as M42 is truly special. We look from our gardens at a place where stars are born . Observing M42 we also look back in time about 1,500 light years.  The future and the past combined , a wonderful sight, a complex drawing.

My hopes are for a comet in outburst similar to 17/P Holmes in 2007. Perhaps a supernova will grace our eyes with wonder . Anything can happen , the observable universe is vast, populated with star making nebula, magical moons and a unique beauty to constantly lift your spirit. So if you are an armchair astronomer with  just a passing interest , perhaps the following information will get you outside a little more often.

Stellarium is a free real-time sky software. It shows you the sky above your head from any place on Earth at any time , past, present or future.  It's marvellous for planning to share the sky with others in particular for observing the moons of Jupiter or Saturn.   If I am sharing Jupiter's moons at a public session it would be my habit to consult Stellarium and do a drawing of the positions of the moons at the projected time of the star party.  When people look through my telescope at Jupiter  I can then name the visible moons as they see them and offer a description of the moons along with  the history of Galileo's discoveries.

For me one of the best features is the active real-time tool which links to the (MPC) Minor Planet Centre to enable you to choose a visible comet and include it in the software.

Here is how you do it in step by step order

Firstly make sure your clock and calendar on your computer are correct and that the location you are observing from is set to a city near you in the location window of the software. The software is defaulted to Paris so unless you live in Paris you need to change the location for yourself. ( see video below)

Including a comet in Stellarium

  • Open the Configuration window = Press F2 on your laptop
  •  Click on the Plug In tab  then on the left hand side scroll down and click on Solar System Editor
  • Click Configure , then click Solar System Tab
  • Click Import orbital elements from MPC
  • In List choose select type Comets
  • Under select a source choose MPC list of observable comets
  • Click Get orbital elements
  • Choose a comet that is bright or becoming bright .  ( use other sources for that such as Heavens Above )
  • Choose add the object
  • Close the configuration window
  • Press F3 on your laptop , the Search window will pop up
  • Type the comets name exactly as it was in the MPC list
  • You comet will be pinpointed

Now the comet and its projected  movements across the sky will be in your software and it will also be at the end of your eyes  binoculars or your telescope  when you get off  that sofa and look up.

If you are unfamiliar with comets or how to know if one is in your sky you can follow the information provided by Heavens Above or many other online resources.

As an educator I would never assume that everyone is familiar with downloading or using this software. So I made these two videos below to assist armchair astronomers and teachers during an MSc in Education Training Management (eLearning) program I attended at Dublin City University.

Download Stellarium

Using Stellarium



Deirdre Kelleghan

About Deirdre Kelleghan

Deirdre Kelleghan is an Astronomer, Artist and Educator. She invents designs and enacts creative workshops to help children understand our solar system through drawing . Her activities take place in schools, libraries, science centres and observatories in Ireland and abroad. In practice her work is always engaged in the NOW. A recurring feature of connecting with her audiences is being actively attentive to astronomy or space events that are ongoing in real time. ICT ,eLearning and blended learning play a key role in many of her programs. Her Action Sun workshop opened Building the Scientific Mind 2013 Colloquium at Bosscha Observatory West Java Indonesia. This was a UNESCO / The Learning Development Institute event. In 2011 Deirdre was awarded the Science Prize for Online Resources in Education. The workshop was Deadly Moons the awarding body was the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is co author of Sketching the Moon an Astronomical Artists Guide. Deirdre is a contributing artist / writer for BBC Sky at Night Magazine . Deirdre has recently been invited to write for The Vatican Observatory Foundation. Deirdre Science / Art Workshops for children support • The primary school curriculum • eLearning • ICT in Education • Astronomy • Astronomy software • Enquiry Based Learning • Drawing skills • Observation She has her own blog: You can follow her on Twitter, and Facebook

This blog is made possible by contributions from visitors like yourself. PLEASE help by supporting this blog.

Get the VOF Blog via email - free!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Leave a Reply