Celestial Maps, a charting software for the serious astronomer

presented by Ovidiu Vaduvescu, Canada, Romania


Celestial Maps main website: http://www.geocities.com/ovidiuv/maps.htm
Celestial Maps v.9 (last version): http://www.astroclubul.org/ovidiuv/maps90/maps90.html
Celestial Maps v.10: under development (expected release summer 2004, suggestions welcomed)


Celestial Maps is an astronomy charting and planetarium software mapping large, small and very small sky charts in 5 projections types, using 15 catallogues offline and other 5 online. Very accurate in positions (with errors matching the original catallogues), it provides positions for both J2000 standard epoch and other arbitrary equinox including corrections for precession, nutation, aberation, parallax, and proper motions. Very flexible and user friendly, Celestial Maps includes a very detailed embedded help and a help manual. Written by 3 professional and amateur astronomers in Pascal for MS-DOS (Turbo Pascal 6 & 7) and Delphi 4 (for Windows), Celestial Maps celebrated recently 10 years in development and use around the world. For the last three months, a new version (v.10) is under development and expected be release by summer 2004.

Three Main Projections

Three main types of projections are the main options to run charts with Celestial Maps. Available within Projection main menu (or via hot keys F2, F3 & F4), these are:

  • The Polar Projection
  • The Zenithal Projection
  • The Equatorial Projection

    While the first two are intended to produce general large field planetarium charts centered on the celestial poles or the Zenith of a given place at a given time, the last one was conceived to run large, small and very small field professional charts using 15 major astronomical offline catallogues and other 5 online.

    The Database

    Most databases used by Celestial Maps were previously built by running additional programs to select the fields of interests from the original astronomical catallogues, group and index them to provide fast access, then saving the coded (much smaller) databases to appropriate directories to be used by the software. Staring with v.10, the databases used by Celestial Maps have been grouped in three categories:

  • Small Database, including:

    >> SAO small database selection (about 25,000 stars up to mag 7.5)
    >> Messier catallogue (110 deep sky objects)
    >> COMET catalogue of the MPC (about 300 comets)
    >> ASTORB small asteroid database selection (about 800 small planets up to abs mag 10)
    >> The FK5-SAO-HD Common Name Cross Index (170 star common names)
    >> The Catallogue of the Brightest Stars (about 1400 Bayer/Flamsteed star names)
    >> The Constellation Figures and their Boundaries (IAU)
    >> The Milky Way boundary.

    Along with the executable files, the small database occupies about 4 MB and is available online (up to v.9).

  • Large Database, including:

    >> SAO J2000 (about 250,000 stars up to about mag 10)
    >> PPM (4 catallogues adding about 500,000 stars up to about mag 11)
    >> Tycho-2 (2 catallogues, 2,500,000 stars up to about mag 12.5)
    >> GSC 1.1 (18,000,000 and deep sky objects complete to about mag 15.5)
    >> NGC 2000 (NGC and IC catallogues of about 13,000 objects up to about mag 17)
    >> ASTORB (complete asteroid database including about 250,000 minor planets known today).

    The large database occupies about 550 MB and is available on a CD-ROM, together with the program. To increase flexibility, we did not include an installation program on the CD-ROM, so one can install the program by simply copying the entire folder Maps from the CD-ROM. This way the user can install or delete at any time one, some or all large catallogues on the hard drive. Also, if the hard drive space is really limited or the user runs the program only once or occasionally, then (s)he can simply run Celestial Maps directly from the CD-ROM.

  • Online Database (available since v.10 via VizieR service), including:

    >> GSC 2.2.1 (about 500,000,000 stars and deep sky objects up to about mag 20)
    >> USNO-A2 (more than 500,000,000 stars up to about mag 20)
    >> USNO-B1 (more than 1,000,000,000 stars up to about mag V=21)
    >> 2MASS point sources (about 500,000,000 stars observed in near-infrared up to about K'=16)

    The online database requires an internet connection (dial-up or cable), active at the runtime.

    Starting with version 10, the Digitized Sky Survey (DSS) database can be quered online by Celestial Maps for very small fields (less than 1 deg) via CADC or STScI servers, to be overlayed automaticaly on the charts.

    To keep the databases updated, the ASTORB and COMET databases can be re-built from the original catallogues downloaded from the internet (using the addresses provided in the reference).

    To increase flexibility, any Custom Database can be added in any number of files to be loaded by the program, using Custom Database option. The database (ASCII files stars*.txt) can be edited either outside the program (using any text editor) or internally via an embeded text editor.

    Running Maps

    Right from the first versions, we considered unnecessary to approach the classical method employed by most sky mapping programs which automatically refreshes the maps right after any change of a single parameter. Instead, we left the user the flexibility to change more parameters (building a new query), then run the map by pressing the F9 hotkey (or click on the Run/Run Map in the menu). By the last versions this approach has demonstrated to be better, due to increasing number of parameters to be correlated, objects to be quered, and recently to the new added online capabilities. We plan to stick with the F9 running key in the future.

    Saving and Loading Maps

    Any query is given by some internal mapping parameters which can be saved at any time via Maps/Save Map...menu. Also any mapping query previously saved can be loaded via Maps/Open... A new function to allow user to keep track of previous runned maps (similarly with the Back button of a web browser) is planned to be added in version 10. Another planned capabillity is introducing an "Atlas" function which can run a number of charts automatically.

    Fonts, Colors and Star Symbols

    Starting with v.8.5, flexible options have been provided for the fonts, colors and the star symbols appearing in the charts. From dedicated forms, the user can set different options in order to customize charts appearances and the options can be saved or loaded at any time later. In color mode, star colors are set accordingly to spectral classes, assigned function of stars magnitudes in different bands (where available).

    Other Features

    Many other features have been added with the former versions, such as: Scale (drawing charts on virtual screen up to 6x larger than the visible screen), Directory (to allow running the small database from the harddrive and the large one from the CD-ROM if space is limited), Data Access from Disk versus Memory (to improve the speed if enough RAM is available), Animation (of the Sun, Moon, planets and all asteroids), set Origin (to Geocentre or any given Topocentre), Zoom in charts, Object Information (to display the catallogue data), Basic Astrometry (to display and measure accurately positions on the maps), an extended Search system, Saving the quered data (to output files to be linked with other programs), etc.

    Embedded Help, References

    Extended help is available via F1 hotkey or the Help buttons embedded with all the menus and forms throughout the program. Also an extensive References list has been provided for the advanced user in order to check all the various sources used in building Celestial Maps.


    The following two colleagues contributed with part of the code in some former versions:

  • Mirel Birlan (v.1.0-4.5) is a PhD in Astronomy and a former colleague at the Astronomical Institute in Bucharest, now working as an astronomer with IMCCE (former Bureau des Longitudes) in Paris, France.

  • Lucian Curelaru (v.8.5-9.0) is a BSc in Computer Science, a computer programmer with Deuromedia SRL and an amateur astronomer from Brasov, Romania.

    Some other users provided welcomed feedback, discussions, suggestions, and a few bug reports which were fixed.

    Former Versions

    Celestial Maps' roots trace back in 1992, when its main author and the first collaborator started to learn and apply Turbo Pascal 6.0 for some internal needs for their observing work at the Astronomical Institute in Bucharest.

    Between 1992-1996, the first four versions of Celestial Maps were released in Turbo Pascal 6 & 7 for MS-DOS. Between 2000-2002, other five versions have been released with the software developed in Delphi 4 for Windows 32b. More detailed version history is available linked from CM's v.9 website.

    Version 10.0

    Starting by winter 2003, a new version is under development. In the last three months, two major modules were implemented, namely:

    >> The Online database, accesing the largest catallogues available today, via the online VizieR service available at CDS in Strasbourg France or one of its mirrors at CADC Canada, Cambridge UK, Harvard US or any other mirror closer to the user;

    >> The DSS Overlay, accessing the Digitized Sky Survey image collection of the real sky, plots the sky images under the maps for faster matching, querying CADC Canada or STScI US (all bands and both generations available).

    Besides other new functions, another planned major module deals with the asteroids and planetary ephemeris via a numerical integrator supposed to provide increased accuracy for the Solar System bodies (about 1 arcsec), as an alternative to the two-body with a few perturbation terms simplified model available up to v.9.

    Provided the spare time will cooperate in the near future, the TODO list for v.10 is still open, so any user (former or potential) is welcome to send me any new suggestion or possible bug report from v.9.

    Achivements, Websites

    A list including some achivements of Celestial Maps along time has been included on the CM9 website. We mention here briefly the following:

    >> Serving charts for the Romanian Astronomical Yearbook (1996-1999);
    >> Included in NASA's ASDS astronomical software collection (1998);
    >> Producing the "Map of the Northern Sky" (2001 using v.8.5) - a high quality printed map of the Nothern Sky including stars up to mag 6.5 down to declination -40 deg issued by SARM, (Romanian Astronomical Society for Meteors and Astronomy);
    >> Assisting its main author in his PhD thesis in two recent observing runs at San Pedro Martir National Observatory in Mexico (2003) and CFHT on Mauna Kea, Hawaii (2004).

    Many websites include Celestial Maps as a charting or planetarium astronomical software in their collections. Other astronomical clubs, institutes, observatories and individuals list Celestial Maps in their websites. To everybody, a big thank you!

    Screen Shots

  • Polar projection with planetary animation
  • Zenithal projection for a given place and time
  • Equatorial projection with small star database
  • Basic astrometry: measuring coordinates and angular separations
  • Getting information about large database stars using Object Info function and the Help
  • Using custom colours
  • Search stars using catallogue numbers
  • Scale 2 (2040x1356 pixels), field 0.5 deg, USNO-A2 catallogue, DSS overlayed
  • Scale 3 (3060x2034 pixels, 1.2 MB!), field 1 deg, 2MASS catallogue, DSS overlayed
  • Sample from the Map of the Northern Sky by SARM

    Others available on the CM9 website.

    About the Author

    I hold a MSc in Math and a PhD in Math & Astronomy from Romania, where I was an research assistant with The Astronomical Institute in Bucharest (1991-1997). In 1997 I immigrated to Canada where I started as a computer programmer, also I was able to afford a computer (to continue working on Maps :-) In 2000 I returned to astronomy, becoming a PhD student in Astrophysics at York University, Toronto. Remaining an amateur astronomer since 15, I continued to cooperate with the amateurs from Romania (SARM), Canada (RASC) and worldwide. I have meet my wife in an astronomy camp 10 years ago, and since then she quietly understood my passion for stars (VERY important!), also seeing me again at work on Maps :-)

    I dedicate Celestial Maps to the memory of Carl Sagan, the first science man who inspired me through his famous "Cosmos" the happiness to discover the sky and the advancement in astronomy!


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