My first recommendation for those of you interested in stargazing software is to check out Stellarium. Stellarium is a very limited software program give you a good idea of what a planetarium software program will offer. It provides a map of the sky, and can simulate the appearance of the night sky as it will appear in your location at a given time, but that’s about it. While it is a very basic planetarium software package, it is free and therefore a recommended place to start for those looking into stargazing software.
While Stellarium is a good jumping off point as a stargazing software package, like I said before, it is very limited. There are a few good software packages that I recommend looking into that offer many more important features.
Starry Night is the standard and most popular astronomy package around. They have many different variations of their software allowing you to select a package that offers the amount of features you desire while not spending extra money on features you won’t use. Starry night has an extensive library of observable stars and deep sky objects, of which most can be viewed as high quality images. My astronomy professors would actually often use Starry Night as a tool in class to help teach certain principles.
Each version increasing in the amount of features it offers as well as price. Personally I recommend Enthusiast as it will have most of the features that you’re probably looking for with out the added price. If you find yourself moving away from the world of casual stargazer into the world of amateur astronomy, Pro and Pro Plus will have many features you will find useful, including tools that help you make notes and record observed data. Additionally Starry Night is available for immediate digital download, and allows you to upgrade from one version to other by simply paying the difference should you decide you require the more advanced features.
TheSkyX, made by Software Bisque Inc., is the other planetarium software program worth mentioning. As far as the planetarium functions go, it is very comparable to Starry Night. They both offer most of the same simulation features, realistic renditions of the sky, and equally extensive libraries of astronomical information. For most people it really is only a simple matter of preference which stargazing software program they like best.
Like Starry Night they offer three different versions of their software differing in price and comprehensiveness .
The one thing that TheSkyX does much better is offer computerized control of your telescope. Especially when the TPoint add on is used, TheSkyX can’t be beat in accurate telescope aligning and control. The professional version of this software is very often used in professional observatories Additionally, overall it tends to be more compatible with various Go-To telescope mounts than Starry Night. TheSkyX is a little pricier than Starry Night, but if you are looking for computerized control of your telescope, it may be worth the extra money.