Making It Easier

Hello again! This time I come with a really helpful tip for people who use the planetarium software ‘Stellarium’. This piece of software is invaluable for any astronomer! It’s completely free, and can aid you in finding any deep space objects (DSO) by controlling your telescope mount if it is a goto mount, but that’s for another day!

Now what some people don’t know, is that you can import your own landscape into Stellarium, enabling you to accurately judge what will be visible from your location. This is incredibly useful if you have an imaging plan, and want to know the exact time that you can swap to your next target.

To Achieve mine, I first watched a few YouTube tutorials on how to make a custom landscape. Most of them were using Android and used dedicated 360º photograph applications. However, I’m firmly fixed in the Apple architecture, and no such apps existed for free. I first tried with the panorama feature on apple cameras, but it could only do 180º per photograph, and then the following panorama didn’t quite match up.

So in the end I took about 20 separate photographs from the location that I would be placing my tripod, and stitched them together using Photoshop’s ‘Automate’ feature. There are a few locations that don’t quite match up, as I took all photographs by hand, but 90% of the photos lined up quite easily. To improve accuracy, a phone tripod mount could be used, and rotated around a central point. I didn’t bother with the floor images, but these could be included if you so wish. At this point, it is best to align the north point to the third quarter line, if looking at the image from left to right. This can be done by using guides in Photoshop to align everything up.

Next came the most time consuming task – erasing all the sky. This took me a good few hours of one evening! Luckily, I managed to use my iPad and Apple Pencil as a drawing tablet connected to my Mac, and this was a lifesaver! Take your time with this task, the more accurate you can be with removing the sky, the better the final result will be!

The final canvas size needs to be a certain resolution ratio – 2048px x 1024px – and the horizon must be on the centre line. I chose to save my image at 4x that resolution to keep the image quality in Stellarium. When saving the image, it must be saved as a PNG file with the filename ‘landscape.png’ to a file location that can be found easily; the PNG file format will preserve the transparency. My final 360º can be seen below:

Once this file has been saved, open up a text editor and create a file called ‘landscape.ini’. In that file, copy the following, filling in your own information where {——–} is located:

name = {This will be the landscape name in Stellarium}
author = {Your Name}
description = {A description of your panorama}
type = spherical {This tell Stellarium that it is a 360º image}
maptex = landscape.png {The file name of your landscape image}

planet = Earth
latitude = {Your latitude in +0d0’0″ format – no spaces between}
longitude = {Your longitude in the same format with no spaces}
altitude = {Your altitude}
angle_rotatez = {This can be used to rotate your image to point north in the correct direction if it is slightly out}

Save this file in the same location as your image file.

Now this next section is different between MacOS and Windows. I can’t go in depth on the windows operating system, but it should be under ‘Program Files’ – ‘Stellarium’ and then a similar filepath and steps once in the landscapes folder.

On MacOS, it would be ‘Applications Folder’, find Stellarium, right click on the icon, go down and click on ‘Show Package Contents’. Click on the ‘Contents’ folder, followed by ‘Resources’ folder, and finally ‘landscapes’. Within this folder, create a new folder with the name ‘custom landscape’, all lower case. Place both your landscape image and the .ini file in this new folder. That’s the hard bit done.

Open up Stellarium, and go to ‘Sky & Viewing Options Window’, and in the landscape tab, your custom landscape should be in that list of landscapes. Close that window and open your ‘Location Window’, and just double check that your location and altitude is correct.

And that’s it! That’s your location imported into Stellarium and the night sky will be viewable where you erased the sky from your image!

You can see my landscape and what can be seen from my location below

Hope this helps some people in visualising what will be viewable at a certain point in time!

Clear Skies!

  1. Good results, Adam – and good advice about focusing. It’s true that the biggest and brightest object in the sky…

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