Using a telescope for stargazing and other astronomical applications requires a lot of logistics, which can be intimidating to newcomers.
That’s why telescope software has flourished in astronomy communities online over the last few decades because they store a lot of information that makes the hobby a lot easier.
It's not just about having a treasure trove of information, too. A lot of the telescope control software you can find out there aren’t just simulators or function as planetariums, they also electronically connect to your telescope’s mount for automated control. This allows you to make changes to the software that are then replicated by your telescope.
We’ve got five of these below, so check them out. We’ve gone through the latest software iterations that were available at the time of writing, so check to see if there are any updates if you’re concerned about being on the cutting edge.
The software that we have covered has been reviewed and ranked, but that doesn’t mean our number five could be your number one.
In a Hurry?
Ranking and prioritizing software can be a difficult task because of how different they are, but since we’re here for the best, we’re going to recommend you the best.
That’d be Starry Night 8, or SN8, and it costs. In a sphere dominated by free or freemium software, you’re going to get the most functionality out of a premium product. They have to justify their price tag, after all.
The real question is, can you?
Take a look at what Starry Night 8 offers you and decide for yourself:
- Updated telescope functionality in the form of improved ASCOM and SkyFi III support and more accurate ephemeris generators that allow you to predict where objects will be in the night sky, and when.
- Additional database content and features. Its DeepSky database has 36,000+ new objects and the introduction of an Extragalactic 3D database allows you to view 200,000 galaxies at a scale that is incomprehensibly large.
- All new data is properly backed up and synced with the cloud, and it can be easily found via the Universal Search system which includes a Messier catalog and Hertzsprung-Russell diagrams for star systems.
- It also looks great thanks to its OpenGL graphics, which facilitate the representation of the entire seeable universe in stunning detail.
OUR TOP PICK
Starry Night 8, often abbreviated to SN8, is a premium astronomy telescope software. That’s right, it’s premium, so it’ll set you back if you want to get it.
It’s more than justified, however, as Starry Night 8 delivers unrivaled functionality into your hands and ultimately your telescope.
Let’s get the telescope-specific features out of the way first. As you can expect with any new iteration of a software program, Starry Night 8 has implemented many improvements across the board.
The foremost of these for telescope users is the updated interconnectivity and their more rigorous ephemeris generator.
With Starry Night 8, telescopes that use ASCOM mounts are now fully supported by the software’s control features, as are telescopes that interconnect with SkyFi III.
As for the ephemeris generator, these values help you to predict where objects will be and when, so they’re invaluable for astronomers. You can also print them out and keep them around, and graphs are also supported by the software.
On the backend, Starry Night 8’s databases have also been improved. Their proprietary DeepSky database has been expanded even more, to the tune of 36,000+ new objects that you can study.
They’ve also added a new Extragalactic D3 Database that covers a billion lightyears of known space, in which there are roughly 200,000 galaxies.
As you can imagine, crawling these databases can be a chore. That’s why Starry Night 8 has also introduced a Universal Search to properly find the information you’re looking for.
Along with this database, there’s also an expanded Messier catalog that includes images of phenomena like star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies. Hertzsprung-Russell diagrams are also available, for those of you who are particularly interested in the stars.
Along with all this, a stronger data backup system and the option for cloud sync ensures that any data bookmarked or created by the user remains safe and sound at LiveSky.com.
All of the above is great but it can be difficult to access if the software doesn’t look good. That’s why they’ve integrated updated OpenGL graphics to relay the universe above us in stunning detail and fidelity.
- The telescope control functionality has been improved with Starry Night 8, now supporting ASCOM mounts and SkyFi III interconnectivity.
- An updated ephemeris generator allows you to better predict where objects will be in the night sky.
- Version 8 of Starry Night updates the software’s 36,000+ object DeepSky database.
- A new Extragalactic 3D Database includes 200,000 galaxies spanning a billion lightyears of space.
- More comprehensive data backup and cloud sync systems guarantee you don’t lose anything.
- Its new Universal Search feature makes finding specific information easier and includes a Messier catalog of images.
- Hertzsprung-Russell diagrams display key info about star age, mass, luminosity, and temperature.
- OpenGL graphics have been improved and new astronomical phenomena have been added.
- As a premium software, getting Starry Night 8 will cost you.
If you’ve visited both the Starry Night and the SkySafari sites, you can probably guess that these software products are owned by the same company – Simulation Curriculum.
If you’re on the hunt for premium astronomy software but you can’t or don’t want to find the money for Starry Night 8, their old competitor SkySafari 6 might be just what you’re looking for.
They’re much cheaper than Starry Night 8 but that’s because it’s supposed to be used in tandem with the SkyFi III.
SkySafari 6 is the native platform for SkyFi, which we mentioned above when writing about Starry Night 8.
SkyFi is the company’s patented WiFi-to-serial adapter and one of the only adapters out there that’s specially designed to control telescopes. This adapter runs off of TCP/IP connections like most online devices, so it can seamlessly and wirelessly connect to all OS platforms.
SkySafari 6 is available in three forms, the AR, the Plus, and the Pro, and the depth of their databases will vary depending on which one you get.
All of them are more affordable than Starry Night 8, however, so getting the Pro for maximum functionality isn’t as big an ask for many astronomers.
What we can tell you is that SkySafari 6 uses the UCAC5 star catalog that has 29 million stars. If you crack out the wallet and make some in-app purchases, you can get as many as 109 million stars.
It also has the PGC catalog that has 784,000 to 3.4 million galaxies depending on, once again, purchases made on the app.
All of this information is backed up in three ways. The first is simple cloud storage, the second is stored on the LiveSky site, and if you have devices that run off of iOS, it can sync data with them too.
A new feature of SkySafari 6 is the ability to use simple voice commands, such as “search *planet*” that will then control the telescope to home in on it.
The software also has a tilt-to-slew capability that allows you to move your telescope without moving your eye off the eyepiece.
- The native platform for SkyFi, a WiFi-to-serial adapter that enables telescope control.
- Tilt-to-slew accelerometers allow you to keep your head at the eyepiece while translating hand movements into telescope motion.
- Utilizes the UCAC5 star catalog that contains 29 million stars with the possibility of expanding to 109 million stars.
- The PGC catalog has 784,000 galaxies included in it, which can be expanded into 3.4 million galaxies with in-app purchases.
- SkySafari 6 will back up data to cloud storage, sync iOS devices, and port it to LiveSky.com.
- Can home in on planets with simple voice commands.
- Seamless and wireless TCP/IP connections that span Operating Systems and devices.
Is best used with the purchase of the SkyFi (or SkyWire) devices.
Computer Aided Astronomy, or C2A, is a great planetarium software that’s available for Windows OS.
It’s freeware, so it won’t lighten your wallet, and it still offers a lot of features that telescope astronomers swear by.
First, let’s go with what you want to hear. If you have a computerized mount on your telescope, it can communicate with C2A and get controlled by it.
It’s ideal for both amateurs and professional astronomers, offering the following catalogs: General Catalogue of Variable Stars, UCAC catalogs 2-4, USNO, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory catalog, and the Hipparcos and Tycho-2 catalogs.
That’s not all for the catalogs that this software includes, either. For deep-sky object sightings, it also includes the same Messier object catalog that Starry Night 8 expands upon, as well as PGC and NGC.
Between all of these, you should have all the object catalogs you need, but C2A also supports the ability to make your own catalogs and add your own data to these pre-existing ones. These can be saved in either their native catalog format or a text file format.
For use with telescopes, C2A has its own ephemeris generator that can accurately predict where celestial objects will be and when.
The C2A ephemeris generator even includes the ability to calculate the pathways and orbits of naturally occurring space satellites like asteroids or comets.
For relatively local astronomy, C2A has the Ecliptic View tool that presents to you an animation of the solar system, which allows you to see the ephemerides at play in real-time.
As for artificial satellites, which is to say satellites that we’ve built and launched into orbit, these aren’t supported by C2A and won’t show up. This includes the ISS, too.
- C2A is compatible with computerized telescope mounts.
- Supports many catalogs at both an amateur and professional astronomy level.
- Contains three extensive deep-sky object catalogs.
- Users of C2A can create and integrate their own object catalogs with pre-existing ones.
- Has a working ephemeris generator that’s capable of displaying asteroid paths.
- The Ecliptic View tool allows you to see an animation of our solar system.
- Doesn’t include satellites, including the ISS.
Next up we have the Voyager 4.5 from Carina Software, yet another free option that still boasts a lot of cool features to its name.
For telescope control purposes, the most pertinent information is that this updated Voyager iteration supports telescopes of most types.
In terms of computer-controlled models, you’re covered if you have Meade or Celestron telescopes, and the software itself now supports SmartStar, Intelliscope/Atlas, iOptron, and ServoCAT Argo Navis. For telescopic communication, a USB-to-serial adapter would be required.
The Voyager 4.5 software also includes a neat 360-degree horizon database. There you can find panoramic shots of horizons from all over the world but the standout part of this feature is the fact you can record your own backyard with the same effect.
That way you can save a panoramic view of the stars as they look from your home, perfect for domestic astronomy.
You can know exactly what’s above you in the stars through the use of the Voyager 4.5’s calendar and ephemeris generator. By accurately modeling the world’s axis, it’s possible to extrapolate planetary positions in both past and future for hundreds of thousands of years.
Naturally, the calendar is great for identifying astronomical events that coincide with religious days. Also, the Voyager’s DE408 ephemeris can include corrections for light time and other potential distortions, like an aberration.
It also looks great, having a rewritten rendering system from previous versions and including object descriptions that have been made with consultation by the University of Illinois, so you’re getting some credentials to back the information up.
More to that point, the software also has a connection to the Minor Planet Center and is capable of downloading new data about passing comets, letting you know of perfect stargazing opportunities.
As a minor endpoint, the Voyager 4.5 also has its own window and dialog box setup that makes it easy to navigate when compared to more advanced but complicated software examples.
- Supports a wide variety of telescopes including computerized control models.
- Allows users to create their own panoramic shots of the skies above their home.
- A comprehensive calendar system covers over a million years.
- Rewritten planet rendering presents celestial bodies in great detail along with new object descriptions developed by the University of Illinois.
- The software downloads new data about asteroids and comets from the Minor Planet Center.
- Voyager 4.5’s dialog boxes and windows are easy to navigate and understand.
- The Voyager 4.5 menu can be impenetrable for beginners.
Frequently referred to as CDC or SkyChart, Cartes du Ciel is a program that primarily focuses on drawing sky charts and using catalog data to observe stars and nebulae.
Like Computer Aided Astronomy, the Cartes du Ciel software is free and many astronomers out there swear by it.
So, what does CDC have? The SkyChart part of the CDC software can be used to electronically control mounts, which is just what we want.
If you prefer a more personal touch, SkyChart can give you the orders and you can do the work yourself with the telescope’s dials.
The specific make of your telescope doesn’t matter much, either. As long as it’s operated by ASCOM or INDI, you’ll find that Cartes du Ciel has a control panel to correspond with each where you can synchronize your scope and input commands.
The software itself is bolstered by catalogs from the UCAC collections and Gaia data courtesy of the European Space Agency.
It operates similarly to all of the above control/planetarium software and even features a slew function.
After synchronizing the telescope, you can get it moving in just a few clicks. Once the new coordinates are sent to the mount, it’ll begin the process of slewing to focus on them and can be aborted midway through if any problems arise.
Speaking of problems, the CDC’s catalogs aren’t as comprehensive as some of the other software examples we’ve discussed, especially the premium ones. That’s to be expected, however, since you get what you pay for.
Similarly, more obscure telescope models may not use ASCOM or INDI and so might have some difficulty in terms of compatibility.
Though it’ll be on a case by case basis, the control panels for either astronomical software are tailored towards those two and so any outlying telescopes may not get the full benefit of CDC.
- SkyChart software informs amateur astronomers and controls your electronic telescope mounts.
- Is compliant with both ASCOM and INDI-operated telescope models.
- Uses the UCAC and ESA Gaia catalog sets.
- The slewing function allows you to smoothly change your telescope’s target.
- Has the least catalog access out of the discussed software.
- More obscure telescope models might not be compatible with Cartes du Ciel