Derby and District Astronomical Society

A Review of Redshift 5.1 Deluxe Edition
By Malcolm Neal

The packaging calls this the ultimate desktop planetarium and in my opinion it is probably a valid claim. Like many packages there are things in it which are personal pleasures and those which are gripes - but of the latter I find very few.

First what kind of computer system do you need to use Redshift? Well not a very powerful one. It claims to need only a 300 Mhz processor but of course a faster processor will make things run all that more smoothly. You do however need a chunk of disk space, 1.48 gigabytes for a full install, but even 940+ megabytes for a partial install, so it would seem a full install is better, especially since once the software is registered you then do not need to use the CDs again. Installation is a smooth process carried out by an automatic installer but does takes several minutes including the obligatory reboot to set up the registry. A word of warning here, if you choose not to reboot and try to run the software you will get an error message!!

Running the package is simplicity itself as you might expect from any Windows based software: point at the Redshift Icon or via Programs and click. The program then takes a while to load and presents you with a splash screen and some music and then drops into the planetarium with a default place based on London and using the system date and time to display what ought to be visible. There is also some, to me, very annoying canned music playing. Thankfully this can be switched off. You are also presented with a start window (below) that gives you the majority of the basic features and also explains their use.

You can switch this start window off or just reduce it to a thin strip. Once you have got used to the software there is no need to display it at all, however using it to learn how to control the program would be useful for a beginner to this kind of package.

The introduction leads you through all the basics of the program and bases itself on Mars. It provides a sub menu of 14 items and proceeds through them one by one, but you can skip to any of the options with a mouse click. The software does only mention the basic nine planets, and the recently discovered Sedna is not included. Objects may however be added using live updates from a variety of sites and these can include planets, novae, satellites and space probes. You can also add images to the image library at any time.

I first looked at the program in the afternoon but was presented with what looked like a night sky of what would be visible if it was dark. However, one option is to display true sky colour. If this is chosen you would see a plain blue screen with possibly the Moon displayed and nothing else. If this is chosen and you then use the advance time by switch the sky mimics sunset, twilight and then stars and other objects begin to appear in order of magnitude until we see the true night sky as seen from London.

How then do we make it display the night sky as seen from Derby? Simplicity itself. There are two options if you know the latitude and longitude of your house you can simply type it into the location panel or easier but not quite so accurate you can use a map of the world and zoom in on you approximate location and set it that way and it works out the latitude and longitude of your chosen spot. Having set your position you can save it as the default workspace along with any other of your preferences. I chose to remove music and stop the start screen from showing by default, and to use the system time to track sky movement.

You can of course move backwards or forwards in time to see things that have happened or will happen. Again this is simplicity itself by using the pop up windows similar to the one shown above. There are Time Location and View options and all appear in the same window as above with tabs to move from one to another. This is a very efficient way of making changes and then the whole can be switched off with one click. A fourth choice is the the filters which panel pops up in a larger window. This is used to select what is seen on the plotted sky. The usual elements are all there, constellation boundaries, constellation patterns, constellation images, constellation borders and three ways of naming the constellations (full or short Latin plus English names). The constellation images I found less than useful as the images are very dressy as you might see in a late 17th century map of the sky. If you are using this software on a laptop to aid finding objects in the sky there is a 'Night Vision' option that casts a red (pink) glow over the screen - a good touch I feel.

The actual night sky is full size whereas this is as big as your computer screen, so there is a neat measuring tool which if selected allows you to measure the angular distance between two objects on the screen and it shows degrees, minutes and seconds between the two objects (potentially helpful when slewing a telescope). When viewing at any time you can speed up or down the apparent motion of the sky view - an example of which is shown below.

All the usual information about each object may be accessed by moving the mouse over the object. If you click on an object you get a small pop up with the name of the object. Not much use you might say but clicking on this opens a larger panel with much more detail, just one part of which is shown to the left. The program claims 20 million stars, 70,000 deep space objects etc. all with similar details!

In addition to the observing aids there are many images of objects, plus a substantial numbers of sky tours, NASA projects and a whole series of lectures that for a beginner would be an ideal way of learning about the night sky and space in general. To use the package however much knowledge you have is easy and I think it would be help to beginners and expert alike. Additionally there is a very comprehensive dictionary of astronomy which uses the usual cross linking features you would expect in web pages to move between related definitions. It is not all encompassing but it is extensive. Some entries are simple basic dictionary definitions while others have a short article about the entry with a photo and most are cross referenced to other entries.

This is brief review and does not cover a host of other useful features but I would recommend it especially if you have not got such a piece of software already. It does cost it is not free like the previously reviewed Stellarium but though both show the night sky I feel there is more behind this package, as there ought to be, as it is not a cheap one.

Also see Mike Lancaster's earlier review of Redshift 5.