Sampling of Astronomy Software and Resources for Apple Macintosh Computers
One asterisk * means I have or had a license and I have tried the application.
Two asterisks ** means I have a current license and I use the
application. Three asterisks *** means that I am a frequent user.
Please note that the asterisks or lack thereof are not a quality rating;
they indicate only the extent of my experience with an app. I’ll cite just one
example: Astro IIDC. It is probably the best lunar and planetary stacking
software available, full stop. But I have one asterisk behind it in the list
because—except on rare occasions—I am not a Solar System Photographer.
This is not a comprehensive list of Macintosh astronomy software. Please tell me
about new software and send me updates with your own brief writeup for inclusion on this page.
||Observation planning and telescope control. Highly
recommended. Can communicate with Equinox.
||Java-based image stacker-combiner.
||Captures QuickTime video from FireWire or USB webcams.
You may require drivers from iOXperts
|Cartes Du Ciel/Skychart **
||Originally Windows-only and known as Cartes Du Ciel (Sky Charts), this venerable (and free) program has come to OS X. Don’t forget to download the databases under Current Catalogs.
||For imaging with ALTA CCD cameras. The current version is used mainly by professionals, and it is free. Future versions will reportedly support CCD, CMOS, and DSLR cameras from a variety of vendors, and will not be free. There is no web site for this software at this time. E-mail Georg Tuparev at email@example.com to get a copy.
||3D Solar-System and space simulation. Free.
||Help in the search for gravity waves. “Einstein@home
is a program that uses your computer's idle time to search for spinning
neutron stars (also called pulsars) using data from the LIGO and
GEO gravitational wave detectors.” Free.
|Equinox Pro ***
||From Darryl Robertson of Microprojects. Planetarium program with telescope, webcam, and focuser control. Webcam autoguiding is supported. Powerful features, but easy to use thanks to a well designed user interface. Darryl provides excellent support for Equinox and Equinox Image (immediately below).
Update: In April, 2009, Darryl announced interaction between Equinox 6 and PHD (see below) and also interaction with Starmap Pro, an iPhone/iPod Touch app. You may now control your mount from your iPhone via WiFi so long as a Mac running Equinox is connected to the mount. Equinox's interaction with PHD enhances both programs; it increases the number of cameras that Equinox can use for guiding and it increases the number of mounts that PHD can control.
|Equinox Image ***
||Also from Darryl Robertson. It used to be that Equinox (above) controlled both telescopes and SBIG CCD cameras. Darryl wisely split the tasks and ended up with better software. The Equinox Image web page says “Equinox Image controls Santa Barbara Instrument Group (SBIG) CCD cameras (grey scale and color) and Optec, RoboFocus and JMI focusers. This program also controls SBIG filter wheels, AO devices and remote guide heads. Auto focus, FWHM, Photometry, Astrometry, RMS error, color enhancement and format conversion functions are available. Tools exist to dark subtract, align and stack images, composite color, drift scan (TDI) and program up to ten image sequences.”
|FITS Liberator ***
||From ESA/ESO/NASA. As far as I know this is the only way to bring a FITS image into Photoshop for further editing without saving the FITS as another format first. I use this Photoshop plug-in frequently and find it to be extremely convenient. Version 2.3, released in November, 2009, works with Photoshop CS3 and CS4. Be sure to read the installation instructions carefully, especially if you are installing in Photoshop CS3.
||Focusing assistance for Canon digital SLR’s.
The author was inspired by DSLR
Focus for Windows. Not all Canon cameras are supported. Author Steve Bryson is apparently too busy with his day job to continue development.
||Contol Starlight Express CCD cameras.
See the U.K.
manufacturer’s site and the U.S.
distributor’s site. iCCD is the work of
Jeff Terry, who was the organizer of The
Macintosh Astronomy Workshop I that was held at the Illinois
Institute of Technology in Chicago on September 8, 2005. I attended.
||An image processing app from the National Institutes
of Health. Originally Mac-only, it is available as an installable
Mac app, or as a cross-platform Java app. Free.
||The iPhone is a Mac (sort of)! Daniel V. Schroeder, who teaches astronomy and physics at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, has assembled a list of star-charting apps for iPhone and iPod Touch.
||FireWire and USB webcam drivers for OS X; also an
802.11 driver for otherwise unsupported cards in a PowerBook.
||Mactel beta available. “IRAF is the Image
Reduction and Analysis Facility, a general purpose
software system for the reduction and analysis of scientific
data. IRAF is written and supported by the IRAF programming group
at the National Optical Astronomy Observatories (NOAO) in Tucson,
Arizona. IRAF includes a good selection of programs for general
image processing and graphics applications, plus a large number
of programs for the reduction and analysis of optical astronomy
data within the NOAO package.” In other words, IRAF is
professional-grade astronomical image processing software. IRAF
is available as an OS X package (easy install) or as Unix application
to be used under Apple’s
X11 environment. The Mac package download is here;
general information is
here, and a very
good FAQ is here.
This is serious software with a serious learning curve.
||Webcam control and autoguiding (for Meade LX200-compatible
|Keith’s Image Stacker *
||Recently updated for Intel Macs and Leopard. Stacking and combining of still images or QuickTime
videos. $15 and worth every penny!
|Lunar Discoverer *
||A comprehensive Moon atlas. As of this writing, in late June, 2009, I have only recently purchased this software and I do not have extensive experience with it yet.
||Stacking and combining of still images or QuickTime
|The MacDob Project
||Works with third-party servo hardware to control
a Dobsonian telescope (“Dob”). Can even control a Dob
via a bluetooth-enabled cell phone!
||Java-based sunclock for Mars, showing graphical
representations of the planet’s position relative to Earth.
Also available: Titan24.
Free from NASA.
||August, 2008: Finally, an update! Displays information on current, past, and future
|| One of the best Mac image-capture and processing apps. Craig Stark, PhD, writes “Nebulosity (Windows and OS X) is designed to be a powerful, but simple-to-use capture and processing application for a wide range of astronomy CCD cameras. Many cameras are supported for capture... and images from just about anything can be processed (support for many FITS formats, PNG, TIFF, JPEG, CR2/CRW, etc).”
||Various observing logs in database format. Free.
|PHD Guiding ***
||This is another great piece of software from Craig Stark, who says “PHD Guiding is designed to be ‘Push Here Dummy’ simple, yet provide powerful, intelligent auto-guiding of your telescope for both PCs and Macs. Connect your mount, your camera, select a star, and start guiding. That's it! ...In PHD Guiding, all calibration is taken care of automatically. You do not need to tell it anything about the orientation of your camera, nor do you need to tell it anything about the image scale. The automatic calibration routine takes care of this for you. Odds are you won't ever need to set a single parameter. Just select your star and hit "PHD Guide" and let the software take care of it.” This is the software I use most often for guiding with my Starfish guide camera. Guiding could hardly be simpler than it is with this combination.
||Pixinsight is astro-image processing software that came to the Mac in December, 2008. It is world-class software—as advanced as any astro-image processing application available to date. The interface is not very Mac-like, and the learning curve is made a bit steeper by the lack of documentation, but Pixinsight touts their forums as the source for help. Dr. Craig Stark, himself an author of excellent Mac imaging software (see Nebulosity and PHD Guider) has put a couple of Pixinsight video tutorials at http://www.stark-labs.com/blog/files/PITutorials.php. Also see Craig's blog at http://www.stark-labs.com/blog/blog.php.
||Free. Turns your display red and dims it to preserve night
|SAO Image DS9
||Free from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory at Harvard. “SAOImage DS9 is an astronomical imaging and data visualization application. DS9 supports FITS images and binary tables, multiple frame buffers, region manipulation, and many scale algorithms and colormaps. It provides for easy communication with external analysis tasks and is highly configurable and extensible.”
|Seeker from Software Bisque**
||Software Bisque’s web site says “Seeker is a multi-platform (Macintosh OS X Universal and Windows XP/Vista) application that provides an immersive three dimensional simulation of our solar system. Experience simulated "space flight" and explore the Sun, planets, moons, comets, asteroids, interplanetary spacecraft and earth-orbiting satellites with stunning realism.” I bought it, and I like it.
|SkySafari Pro ***
||Planetarium software with telescope control. Runs on OS X and iOS. An iOS device (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) can control a telescope via WiFi using SkySafari and Southern Stars’ SkyFi Wireless Telescope Controller. A guaranteed winner for your home use or at a public star party.
||Planetarium program; runs natively under OS X and
OS 8.1 and above.
||I hesitated before listing Starlink here because it is part of the Fishcamp Engineering’s Starfish Guide Camera package. I bought a Starlfish in November, 2008, however, and I found the Starfish and Starlink combination provided excellent guiding. I have not had a lot of experience with Starlink due to inclement weather, but my experience to date has been positive.
|StarMap Pro for iOS
||This was the first iOS app I listed here. StarMap Pro (there is a regular edition as well) is available from the iTunes store. It deserved special mention because, as far as I know, it was the first iOS app that could control a telescope, albeit indirectly. Starmap Pro can synchronize with Equinox Pro (see above) and control a telescope that is connected to the Mac that is running Equinox Pro.
Night Pro **
||Planetarium and telescope control. Very elaborate very good.
||Free planetarium program, noted for its beauty. Not for heavy-duty observing, I think, but good for finding out what’s up.
|TheSkyX Professional ***
||This is part of the complete re-write of all of Software Bisque’s software. TheSkyX Pro is the replacement for TheSky 6 (Windows only) and it offers as add-ons both camera control (replacing CCDSoft) and TPoint. This is the first time that TPoint has been available for the Mac. TheSkyX is suitable for the most demanding user. Software Bisque is justifiably famous for superb customer support through the forums at Bisque.com. In addition, in my experience Software Bisque ranks very high in quality control; problems are rare and if they turn out to be bugs, they are addressed quickly. Please Read This Disclaimer.
||Coming from Software Bisque: TheSkyHD for iOS. Now in beta. Trust me on this--it is stunning on an iPad!
|TPoint from Software Bisque**
||Software Bisque says “The optional TPoint Add On to TheSkyX Serious Astronomer Edition is telescope analysis and pointing correction software that identifies, quantifies and automatically compensates for systematic errors in ‘go to’ telescopes. It can also quantify the polar alignment of your equatorial mount, even when the celestial pole is not visible.” TPoint is an extra-cost add-on to TheSkyX Serious Astronomer Edition; that is, you must own TSX-SAE in order to use TPoint. Until April, 2009, TPoint was a stand-alone application for Windows only. It is now an integrated add-on to TheSkyX for Mac and Windows. I have no experience with the new TPoint for Mac as of this writing (I'm awaiting a clear night, what else!?) but I can attest to the fact that the Windows version is a very good application. My "two-asterisk" experience indicator applies to the Windows-only version.
|Virtual Moon Atlas *
||New to the Mac in late 2009. Free. I have been most impressed by my initial look at this software. Downloads are at http://www.ap-i.net/avl/en/download. Download and install the software first, then download the textures and picture libraries as you wish. (A Lunar Atlas)
||A planetarium and telescope-control application. At least two Mac astronomers report that Voyager is worth a look, and one of them says that Voyager has been his astronomy app of choice for the Mac since it first appeared in the pre-OS X era.
|Where is M13? *
||Planetarium software and printed
charts and books will tell you a great deal about deep-sky objects,
but they don’t
show you where an object is in the Milky Way relative to the Earth
(or outside the Milky Way, as is the case with other galaxies.) That’s
where Where is M13? comes in. It helps you visualize the 3-D locations
in addition to the physical properties of common deep sky
objects. A nice feature is that you can choose relative or absolute
data about an object.
Where is M13? formerly cost
$19, but author Bill Tschumy has made it freeware. Where
is M13? is available for Mac OS (Universal Binary), Linux/Unix,
||UNIX planetarium and telescope control. Runs under
X11 environment. Free if you want to compile it yourself, available
as a Mac OS X package installer for a modest fee. This is an extremely
powerful application that is worth the time required to learn to use
its various options and functions. It is a good introduction to running UNIX software on a Mac.