Contributed Talk - Splinter Historical

Friday, 25 September 2020, 14:20   (virtual room E)

Exploring skies remote in time and culture with Stellarium

Georg Zotti
Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology, Vienna, Austria

A desktop computer program can be used to visualize the sky for any place on Earth, for any point in time within the constraints of the computation models used. The popular free and open-source project Stellarium (https://stellarium.org) arguably provides the most realistic simulation of the night sky, with stars, the Milky Way, Zodiacal light, planets, minor planets, comets with tails, atmospheric effects like refraction, extinction and light pollution, optionally contextualized to a concrete site with a panoramic landscape horizon. Early versions gained a mixed reputation of “nice but not accurate enough for historical simulation”. Over the past decade Stellarium has gained a lot in accuracy, but has still a few minor shortcomings which I should point out in this presentation. A popular feature is also the display of the constellations in various formats: IAU borders, stick figures, or constellation artwork inspired by older atlases. One aspect of this software not found elsewhere is the possibility to exchange the representation of the 88 constellations canonized by the IAU by other “sky cultures”. This allows the representation of ethnographically contextualized sky views, with constellations and star names as they were and are still used in other parts of the world, but may also be used to bring illustrations from classical atlases onto the simulated sky. Over the past years some shortcomings of the current implementation have surfaced. A few cultural concepts have to be studied better before a thorough implementation can bring also those ideas into the program. Despite Stellarium’s open-source nature its main features are developed by only very few enthusiasts. Major progress can be expected only from funded projects. We invite contributions in code, data and ideas.