Macintosh Computers in Amateur Astronomy
This Page Made with a Couple of Telescopes and a Couple of Macs
Software List

That’s me in the UFO in November, 2008.
Photo by my wife, Leona Illig, for MacLife magazine.

The Alnitak region of the constellation Orion, photographed by me for MacLife on December 2, 2008.

A 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.

AstroPlanner * Observation planning and telescope control. Highly recommended. Can communicate with Equinox.
Astrostack * Java-based image stacker-combiner.
BTVPro * 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.
ccdPlace 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 gtupar@tuparev.com to get a copy.
Celestia * 3D Solar-System and space simulation. Free.
Einstein@Home 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.
iAstroPhoto * 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.
iCCD 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.
ImageJ 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.
iOS Devices 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.
iOXperts * FireWire and USB webcam drivers for OS X; also an 802.11 driver for otherwise unsupported cards in a PowerBook.
IRAF 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.
Keith’s AstroImager Webcam control and autoguiding (for Meade LX200-compatible telescopes). Free.
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.
Lynkeos * Stacking and combining of still images or QuickTime videos. Free.
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!
Mars24 * Java-based sunclock for Mars, showing graphical representations of the planet’s position relative to Earth. Also available: Titan24. Free from NASA.
MoonMenu *** August, 2008: Finally, an update! Displays information on current, past, and future lunar phases.
Nebulosity *** 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).”
Observing Logs 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 ** 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.
RedScreen Free. Turns your display red and dims it to preserve night vision.
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.
Stargazer’s Delight Planetarium program; runs natively under OS X and OS 8.1 and above.
Starlink *** 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.
Starry Night Pro ** Planetarium and telescope control. Very elaborate very good.
Stellarium * 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.
TheSky HD 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)
Voyager 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, and Windows.
XEphem ** UNIX planetarium and telescope control. Runs under Apple’s 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.
Please e-mail me if you would like to comment on, contribute to, or correct this list.

UNIX
There is a great deal of UNIX software available from the major observatories and research institutions around the world. Macs can run all of it because the Mac OS is UNIX. In some cases, like IRAF and XEphem, there are Mac installers available that work from the standard Mac graphic user interface. In other cases it is assumed that you know UNIX and you are expected to compile and install the software from the UNIX command line. In the case of IRAF and some others you must know some programming in order to write little programs called “scripts” that are needed to control the software. I have omitted most of that software from this page, but a Google search something like this should show you a selection.

Windows
Not featured here is Windows software because this is a Mac astronomy page. You may safely conclude that I'm not a Windows fan, but I would not spite myself or limit my options by ignoring good Windows software if I needed it to do what I want to do. I sometimes boot my 15" and 17" MacBook Pros in Windows XP Pro or Windows 7 Pro or run Windows under Parallels Desktop. I have several excellent Windows applications from Software Bisque (though I am now using their Mac software), plus AstroArt, CCDStack, MaximDL , and other Windows astronomy applications. I want to emphasize that I get along with Windows OK, but as of this update on March 23, 2012, I have not found the need to run Windows in astronomy for more than a 1-1/2 years. I boot Windows periodically to get my anti-virus software updates and Microsoft updates and that's about the extent of it. The majority of the astrophotographs displayed on primordial-light.com, and all recent ones, are 100% Mac-made, but not all of them.

Necessary Hardware
If you are going to control a telescope with a computer, you probably need a Keyspan Serial-to-USB Adapter. This is because many mount manufacturers are in the serial-port age—years after Apple abandoned serial ports, followed (as usual) by makers of Windows-only PC's. My two RoboFocus units also use serial ports. The adapters I have used with a Mac are the USA-19HS “USB High-Speed Serial Adapter;” the UPR-112G Mini Port Replicator; and the USA-49WG “USB 4-Port Serial Adapter.” The latter is what I use now because I have more than one serial device—an Astro-Physics 1200GTO mount and two RoboFocusers. Keyspan is not the only manufacturer of serial adapters, but I know that the models that I named above work with Mac OS X and with Windows XP Pro and Windows 7 Pro.

Please Read This Disclaimer

I have, on one occasion, accepted free software as a gift from Software Bisque. The gift was unsolicited and it came without conditions or suggestions as to what I ought say or write about the application—if I chose to mention it at all. Furthermore, before I accepted the one piece of free software I already owned a number of Software Bisque applications that I purchased at their full retail prices. I have purchased additional Software Bisque products at full retail price since accepting the one-time gift. I do not believe that my objectivity in expressing my opinions about Software Bisque applications has been compromised. My bias is toward products that work for me, be they freeware, gifts, or costly suites. Software Bisque products for Mac OS and Windows have always worked well for me, but in all cases I make no representation that what works for me will work for you. You should, as always, judge for yourself, and many software packages have trial versions to allow you to do that.


Photo by Leona Illig
This photo was not posed. I was updating software on my 17" and 15" MacBook Pro's, my sister-in-law's 15" MacBook Pro, and my niece's 17" PowerBook when my wife, Leona, said "Look here!"