Starry Night Pro Plus 7 Review – Planetarium programs help us to make sense of the sky above on any given date, from any location – even from the surfaces of distant worlds. Some are more sophisticated than others, allowing us to explore the bodies of the Solar System up close and even head out to look at other stars with planets.
Starry Night Pro Plus 7 is the latest incarnation in a long line of Starry Night planetarium programs and one that offers a bewildering array of bells and whistles. There are quite a few programs and apps around that can chart the sky. Some present the stars and constellations like you’d see on a paper chart. Others, such as this one, display the sky in a more realistic way, with lighting effects that makes it feel as if you’re looking out of a window rather than at a computer screen.
That’s because this version of Starry Night uses real CCD colour images for the background sky display, showing stars down to magnitude +15.0. Zoom into an area of sky and the images are ‘streamed in’ as required. Amazingly, you can click on virtually anything displayed and the program will tell you about it – something possible thanks to an underlying star database containing around 16 million entries and a deep-sky database listing millions of objects. The interface has been restyled in Pro Plus 7, so it is now far less cluttered than previous versions. It’s a good idea to take a moment to get familiar with its operation via the excellent electronic user guide.
Armchair exploring One of the strengths of Starry Night Pro Plus 7 lies in how it allows you to explore the Universe. For example, you can take a virtual trip to a significant number of the displayed stars, as well as visit those with known exoplanets. The Solar System is rendered with proper sizes and orbits. The highly detailed textures for the planets and major moons are a delight to view and explore, and we were impressed by the way that display data could be toggled. For example, while viewing the Galilean moon Io up close, it’s possible to swap to a geological feature map to help make sense of its complex surface.
Other notable features include a huge 200,000 entry database of galaxies which can be viewed, rotated and zoomed, all in glorious 3D. Many exploratory spacecraft are also included, rendered as intricate 3D models, and it is great fun hitching a ride alongside during a mission highlight. Flaws in design However, during our tests we found numerous data anomalies and some annoying design flaws. The object information window is too narrow for some of the content and it can’t be widened, while the help for some of the alternative data sets showed truncated text with no way of scrolling the hidden portion into view. The first time we searched for ‘Moon’ in the sky, the program took us to Taurus, which was unfortunate because at the search time the Moon was actually in Sagittarius.
A similar hunt for M33 pointed to a mag. +15.0 galaxy in Hercules. To be fair, the real M33, a 7th-magnitude galaxy in Triangulum, was also listed in the search results. We also had several issues with the main display. We managed to make objects disappear from view; closing and re-opening the program restored them. Zooming into small patches of sky wasn’t always snappy; it took from a few seconds to over a minute for the background CCD sky panels to load. This was on a moderately fast PC (i7 core, Windows experience index 5.9) fitted with 16Gb of RAM. We’d sum up Starry Night Pro Plus 7 as being nearly there.
Its ability to let you go out and explore space is very impressive and switching between textures and data sets is amazing. However, the current version has faults. Data anomalies coupled with silly design flaws and display bugs undermines its credibility. Serious practical observers have other alternatives, several of which are free. Whether the excellent extras are enough to tempt them to Starry Night Pro Plus 7 is questionable.
Starry Night Pro Plus 7 Specifications
- Price Physical copy $259.95; download version $249.95
- Updates Data and program available
- Date range 99,999 BC to 99,999 AD
- System requirements Windows 32- or 64-bit Vista or higher. Mac OSX 10.7 or higher. 1Ghz+ CPU, 1Gb+ RAM, 12Gb hard disk space, 128Mb OpenGL 1.4 graphics card, minimum 1024×768 display
- Developer Simulation Curriculum Corp
- Tel 00 1 877 290 8256