Milwaukee Astronomical Society


Beginner's Guide


Classic Large Venue Planetarium Projector

Planetarium Projector - Wikipedia Commons


What is a Planetarium Program?

A planetarium is a theatre built for presenting educational and entertaining shows about astronomy and the night sky. A classic planetarium accurately reproduces the night sky on a domed ceiling allowing the audience to see the sky from any place on Earth at any time. This was accomplished with a special projector and was controlled normally with an panel of dials and levers that would impress an airline pilot.

A planetarium can show an audience the night sky from any location on Earth. It can speed up time to show the motion of sky through the night, show the moon and planets, highlight the constellations, and show a myriad of other objects. A planetarium program does this on your desktop computer or smartphone.


Why Stellarium?

There are quite a few planetarium programs available, but a very good one is Stellarium and it's a free application funded by donations. For desktop computers, it's available on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. For smartphones, they have versions for Android and iOS. But almost all of the other programs have the same capabilities as Stellarium so don't think you have to get that particular program. One of the advanced functions of many of these programs is they can control a telescope, but this will depend on having a compatible GoTo telescope mount. A planetarium program is great for both beginners and experts, but we will concentrate on how it can help those starting out in astronomy.


Viewing the Sky / Learning the constellations

Note: this is not a "how to" guide on using Stellarium! We are simply showing some of it's capabilities, especially for those who are relatively new to astronomy.

When you open Stellarium by default it is going to show you the sky looking South from the default location at the current date and time. You'll want to change that location to one that's in the Stellarium directory that's relatively close to your actual location. (There is an extensive User's Guide that you can download from their website.) From there you can change the direction of your view, zoom in, zoom out, and modify the date and time.

What follows are various views of the winter sky looking directly south to show you the display possibilities.

Sky with no labeling - Stellarium
Sky with no labeling.

Sky with the brightest stars labeled - Stellarium
Sky with the brightest stars labeled.

Sky with the constellation lines - Stellarium
Sky with the constellation lines.

Sky with constellation lines and constellation labels - Stellarium
Sky with constellation lines and constellation labels.

Sky with the brightest stars, constellation lines, and constellation labels - Stellarium
Sky with the brightest stars, constellation lines, and constellation labels.

Sky with the brightest stars, constellation lines, constellation labels, and constellation art - Stellarium
Sky with the brightest stars, constellation lines, constellation labels, and constellation art.


Alternate Constellation Lines

Northern sky using the HA Rey constellation lines. - Stellarium

Another feature of Stellium is the use of alternate constellation lines. One change you might consider if you like the HA Rey constellation lines is to instruct the program to utilize them. They are used in the the above screen shot.


The 88 Constellations

Throughout the entire sky we recognize 88 constellations. But from a location such as Milwaukee you can only see about 60 of them. To see the ones hidden you need to travel south, the farther south the better.

Latin Name English Name / Description Abbr
Andromeda Princess of Ethiopia And
Antlia Air pump Ant
Apus Bird of Paradise Aps
Aquarius Water bearer Aqr
Aquila Eagle Aql
Ara Altar Ara
Aries Ram Ari
Auriga Charioteer Aur
Bootes Herdsman Boo
Caelum Graving tool Cae
Camelopardalis Giraffe Cam
Cancer Crab Cnc
Canes Venatici Hunting dogs CVn
Canis Major Big dog CMa
Canis Minor Little dog CMi
Capricornus Sea goat Cap
Carina Keel of Argonauts' ship Car
Cassiopeia Queen of Ethiopia Cas
Centaurus Centaur Cen
Cepheus King of Ethiopia Cep
Cetus Sea monster (whale) Cet
Chamaeleon Chameleon Cha
Circinus Compasses Cir
Columba Dove Col
Coma Berenices Berenice's hair Com
Corona Australis Southern crown CrA
Corona BorealisNorthern crownCrB
Corvus Crow Cor
Crater Cup Crt
Crux Cross Cru
Cygnus Swan Cyg
Delphinus Porpoise Del
Dorado Swordfish Dor
Draco Dragon Dra
Equuleus Little horse Equ
Eridanus River Eri
Fornax Furnace For
Gemini Twins Gem
Grus Crane Gru
Hercules Hercules, son of Zeus Her
Horologium Clock Hor
Hydra Sea serpent Hya
Hydrus Water snake Hyi
Indus Indian Ind
Lacerta Lizard Lac
Leo Lion Leo
Leo Minor Little lion LMi
Lepus Hare Lep
Libra Balance Lib
Lupus Wolf Lup
Lynx Lynx Lyn
Lyra Lyre or harp Lyr
Mensa Table mountain Men
Microscopium Microscope Mic
Monoceros Unicorn Mon
Musca Fly Mus
Norma Carpenter's Level Nor
Octans Octant Oct
Ophiuchus Holder of serpent Oph
Orion Orion, the hunter Ori
Pavo Peacock Pav
Pegasus Pegasus, the winged horse Peg
Perseus Perseus, hero who saved Andromeda Per
Phoenix Phoenix Phe
Pictor Easel Pic
Pisces Fishes Psc
Piscis Austrinus Southern fish PsA
Puppis Stern of the Argonauts' ship Pup
Pyxis Compass on the Argonauts' ship Pyx
Reticulum Net Ret
Sagitta Arrow Sge
Sagittarius Archer Sgr
Scorpius Scorpion Sco
Sculptor Sculptor's tools Scl
Scutum Shield Sct
Serpens Serpent Ser
Sextans Sextant Sex
Taurus Bull Tau
Telescopium Telescope Tel
Triangulum Triangle Tri
Triangulum Australe Southern triangle TrA
Tucana Toucan Tuc
Ursa Major Big bear UMa
Ursa Minor Little bear UMi
Vela Sail of the Argonauts' ship Vel
Virgo Virgin Vir
Volans Flying fish Vol
Vulpecula Fox Vul

Stargazing - A Handbook for Night Sky Tour Guides

For a much greater understanding of the consellations, we have a whole section on our website dedicated to the topic called Stargazing. It contains a wealth of information for both beginners and those with more advanced knowledge. Click/tap here to go to that section.


Locating the Planets

Planets in the Stellarium sky - Stellarium

A very great use of the program, especially for beginners, is seeing the location of the planets. The planets are always in motion so their position changes even on a daily basis.


Learning about the Celestial Sphere

Another great thing about a planetarium program is facilitating the learning of the celestial sphere. This topic is so important we will devote a whole web page to it. Click/tap here to go there.