Infobox Software

caption = Celestia displaying Jupiter, Europa and Io
developer = Chris Laurel, Celestia developers
released = 2001
latest_release_version = 1.5.1
latest_release_date = 24 April 2008
latest preview version =
latest preview date =
operating_system = Cross-platform
size = 22.69 MB (Windows)
26.13 MB (Mac OS X)
14.57 MB (Linux)
32.56 MB (Source code)
(all archived)
genre = Educational software
license = GNU General Public License
website = http://shatters.net/celestia/

Celestia is a 3-D astronomy program created by Chris Laurel. The program is based on the Hipparcos Catalogue (HIP) and allows users to travel through an extensive universe, modeled after reality at any speed, in any direction and at any time in history. Celestia displays and interacts with objects ranging in scale from artificial satellites to entire galaxies in three dimensions using OpenGL, from perspectives which would not be possible from a classic planetarium or other ground based display.

NASA and ESA have used Celestia in their educational [cite web | title = Celestia Exploration Activity | work = NASA Learning Technologies | publisher = National Aeronautics and Space Administration | date = 2005 | url = http://learn.arc.nasa.gov/planets/ | accessdate = 2007-10-26 ] and outreach programs, [cite web | title = Mars Express orbit lowered | work = Closing in on the Red Planet | publisher = European Space Agency | date = 2003 | url = http://www.esa.int/esaCP/SEMOUD374OD_index_0.html | accessdate =2007-10-26 | quote = Upcoming Mars Express flight orbits until 7 January, getting closer to the Red Planet. Generated with Celestia software. ] as well as for interfacing to trajectory analysis software. [ cite web | title = Space Trajectory Analysis (STA) | first = G | last = Schouten | publisher = Delft University of Technology | url = http://trajectory.estec.esa.int/Astro/3rd-astro-workshop-presentations/Space%20Trajectory%20Analysis%20(STA).pdf ]

Celestia is available for Linux, Mac OS X, and Microsoft Windows. Released under the GNU General Public License, Celestia is free software.


Celestia displays the Hipparcos Catalogue (HIP) of almost 120,000 stars. Celestia uses the very accurate VSOP87 theory of planetary orbits. This makes it possible for it to provide a Solar and lunar eclipse finder and to display the orbital paths of planets (including extrasolar planets), moons, asteroids, comets, artificial satellites, and spacecrafts. The user can vary the number of stars that are visible on the screen and have them drawn in different styles.

Celestia users can travel/fly through the Celestia universe using simple keyboard controls, at any speed from 0.001m/s to millions of light years/s. Viewpoints can be set to look forward, backward or at any angle to direction of travel. Controls allow users to orbit stars, planets, moons and other space objects, track space objects such as spacecraft, asteroids and comets as they fly by, or travel to and/or fly through nebula and irregular, elliptical and spiral galaxies (over 10,000 galaxies included).

The time simulated by Celestia can be set at any point in the future or past, although planetary orbits are only accurate within a few thousand years of the present day, and date arithmetic overflows at the year 5874774.

The names and positions of multitudes of objects in space can be displayed, from galaxies, star clusters, nebula, constellations and stars to planets, moons, asteroids, comets and artificial satellites, as well as the names and locations of cities, craters, observatories, valleys, landing sites, continents, mountains, seas and other surface features.

Celestia displays such features as detailed atmospheres on planets and moons, sunsets and sunrises, moving clouds, planetary rings, eclipse and ring shadows, constellation lines, borders and illustrations, night-side lights, detailed surface textures, nebula gases and star flares.

Information about the objects that Celestia draws can also be displayed: the radius, the distance, length of the sidereal day and average temperature of the planets are shown and the distance, luminosity relative to the sun, spectral class, surface temperature and radius of stars are indicated.

The user can change Celestia's field of view from as wide as 120 degrees to a highly magnifying 3.4 seconds of arc, while dividing the window into multiple panes, in order to observe several objects at the same time and including Light time delay if desired.

Graphic screen-shots and movies can be captured in classic or HD resolutions (up to 1920x1080) on Windows and Linux platforms.

Celestia's support for game pads and joysticks is relatively limited, employing many keyboard shortcuts instead.

Celestia can be extended with new objects and there are hundreds of third-party, user-created add-ons available for installation, both fictional and realistic. The extension mechanism uses Lua as its built-in scripting language. Educational lessons and computer lesson plans are available.


The default setting for Celestia's Earth is a spheroid. The irregular surface of the Earth causes low Earth orbit satellites to seem to be in the wrong places in the sky when watched from Celestia's ground, even when the Earth's oblateness is specified.

Many types of astronomical objects are not included with Celestia. Variable stars, supernovae, black holes and nebulae are missing from the standard distribution. Some are available as add-ons. Although objects which form part of a planetary system move, and stars rotate about their axes and orbit each other in multiple star systems, stellar proper motion is not simulated and galaxies are at fixed locations. Celestia's binary star catalogs only describe a few hundred systems of multiple stars. Most binary star systems cannot be simulated because adequate orbital information is not yet available.

Celestia does not include any stars which are more than about 16,000 light-years from the Sun. That is as far as the Hipparcos astrometric satellite could accurately measure distances. Celestia's 128 bit mathematical operations also cause accuracy problems when drawing stars more distant than that. In addition, objects in solar systems are only drawn to a distance of one light-year from their suns.


About 15 gigabytes of extensions are available in addition to the base program, produced by an active user community. cite web | url = http://discovermagazine.com/2004/nov/emerging-technology/ | title = Emerging Technology | first = Steven | last = Johnson | date = 25 November 2004 | accessdate = 2007-12-20 | publisher = Discover Magazine ]

High resolution surface textures are available for most solar system bodies, including Virtual Textures with complete coverage up to 32768 pixels wide (1.25 km/pixel at the Earth's equator), with selected coverage at higher resolutions. This allows very close views of the Earth, Mars and the Moon. Many 3D models of historical and existing spacecraft are available flying in reasonably accurate trajectories, from Sputnik 1 and Voyager 2 to the Hubble Space Telescope and International Space Station, as are extended data plots for stars (2 million with correct spatial coordinates). DSOs (nebulae, galaxies, open clusters etc), as well as catalogues of thousands of asteroids and comets and more than 96,000 locations on the Earth can be drawn by the program. Add-ons also include extensive space objects such as red and blue supergiants, red and brown dwarfs, neutron stars, spinning pulsars, rotating black holes with accretion disks, protostars, star nursery nebula, supernova and planetary nebula, galactic redshifts, geological planetary displays (e.g. - 3-D interiors, topographic and bathymetric maps, ice age simulations), planetary aurora, rotating magnetic fields, animated solar flares and prominences, 3-D craters and mountains, and historic collision events. All can be visited via the Celestia travel interface. All stages in the life cycle of stars are available, from nebula stage to black dwarf.

Numerous scripts are available; these include simple tours, reconstructions of complex space missions such as Cassini–Huygens and Deep Impact, and scripts showing useful information, like size comparisons, or particular events such as multiple simultaneous eclipses of Jupiter's moons or the evolution of a star.

Many well known fictional universes are depicted in detail, with whole solar systems and 3D models - films such as "", "Star Trek" and "Star Wars", and TV shows including "Stargate SG-1" and "Babylon 5". Addons illustrating less well known Web fiction, like "Orion's Arm", and detailed personal works by members of the Celestia community depicting extensive fictional solar systems with inhabited worlds, spacecraft, cities and exotic special effects can also be obtained.

Educational add-ons (built by and for educators) are also available and are in use worldwide. These activities provide approximately 40 hours of space journeys and astronomical lessons, to include extensive tours of the Celestia universe, the complete life cycle of stars, the solar system, the human space program, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), and depictions of astronomical events such as the formation of our moon billions of years ago, and the possible terraforming of Mars in the future. A special educational version of the Celestia program can also provide sound effects and "cockpit" features to simulate flying in a real hyperdrive spacecraft. Targeting the home user, middle and high school students and beginning courses in collegiate astronomy, they are available in several languages [ [http://www.celestiamotherlode.net/catalog/educational.php/ The Celestia Motherlode: Educational Activities] ] . They can also be obtained on CD or DVD for easy installation on school servers, teacher computers and home computers [ [http://www.gregs-educational.info/ Obtaining Celestia Educational Activities] ] .

In the media

Celestia was used in the media by the CBS television show NCIS (Season 4, Episode 22: "In The Dark"). Character Timothy McGee explains what Celestia is, and how an add-on can allow the user to store a diary within the program as well.

Similar applications

Similar applications include the free software applications KStars, Stellarium and Mitaka, the proprietary applications Orbiter, WorldWide Telescope and XEphem (all freeware) and Starry Night (commercial).


External links

* [http://www.shatters.net/celestia/ Official website]
* [http://www.shatters.net/forum/ Official Forum website]
* [http://www.celestiamotherlode.net/ Celestia Motherlode] Collection of add-ons made by various people
* [http://www.celestiamotherlode.net/catalog/educational.php/ Celestia Motherlode educational Resources] Celestia Educational page
* [http://www.gregs-educational.info/ Celestia Educational Activities Purchase]
* [http://learn.arc.nasa.gov/planets/ Page on Celestia] hosted by NASA
* [http://www.esa.int/esaCP/SEM4GC374OD_Ireland_1.html#subhead2 Instance of ESA using Celestia]

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