Aciqra is a great free program for astronomy enthusiasts. It will map the sky for you, act as a virtual planetarium (in 2D) and will even track movement of stellar phenomena like planets and stars or even deep space objects (DSOs), and more.
As a kid I had this book about the solar system and the history of the earth. I don’t remember where I got it, exactly, but I remember spending many hours poring over the simple text and endearing images between its battered yellow covers in pure fascination at the data therein.
I don’t think I was even ten years old yet at the time but that was my first real indication that I would enjoy astronomy (and occasionally astrology from a sheer curiosity angle) as an interest in later life.
I was, therefore, quite pleased to see the URL for Aciqra land on my desk when I learned what the program is meant to do.
Imagine if you could look up at the night sky and know every single star up there by designation or name. Pretty geeky, admittedly, but many of us enjoy this kind of knowledge for its own fascinating sake and of course there are many very intelligent people who make a good living as scientists studying those same stars. In 2012 we’re experiencing a paradigm shift where geek is sheik (American Heritage Dictionary says the slang definition of sheik is ‘a romantically alluring man’) and intelligence is valued on a comparable level to previous eras of physical superiority or economic success. In other words, learning is fun and lately it’s pretty popular too. While it may not be reasonable to learn every star’s name or designation by heart, you can enhance your knowledge of the solar system and how it works with Aciqra.
The program will show you the night sky, at its most basic function. It will show dynamically the position of everything in its database, so you can think of it almost like a virtual atlas of space in a way. The program has various viewing filters to show or not show a number of things, from planets and DSOs to the Earth’s shadow and various angle calculations for tracking movement and predicting it as well. The mouse left and right buttons will zoom and pan, and you can even get an overlay that shows what portion of the sky contains which constellations at any given time. One of the most impressive, and difficult to get a worthy screenshot of, features in Aciqra is the ability to show animation of movement for all these celestial bodies over time. You can specify from seconds to much longer periods like days to see snapshots or even watch it move in an almost live speed.
This helps give an idea of how the celestial bodies move around and interact with each other in ways that make more sense than a static picture can show. It even shows things like atmospheric refraction and comets. For that matter, it also has a nifty Night Vision Mode, which reminds me of skulking around in Call of Duty. That’s pretty cool, in my opinion.
Aciqra is a great learning tool for those just getting started and a handy reference for the more experienced star-gazer as well. It costs absolutely nothing to download or use and the installation file itself is pretty tiny. There aren’t any spam-ads or toolbars to avoid, and it doesn’t ask to reset your home page, either. The only real downside I saw to it was that there is no tutorial or even handy pop ups to teach you how to use what you’re looking at, so while it won’t act as a comprehensive learning solution by any means, it is certainly an excellent and worthy tool for using in conjunction with something else. Even if you’re not looking to get heavily into learning about the night sky, Aciqra can provide some distraction from those TPS reports you still haven’t done the cover sheets for, so go check it out. Until next time, my friends.[Thanks go to reader Panzer for the tip about this program]
Get Aciqra here (Windows, Linux).