Nightshade Forks From Stellarium, Designs Open Source Software for Planetariums

by Ostatic Staff - Dec. 30, 2009

Stellarium is a great astronomy application for helping you learn about the skies overhead, but it's aimed mainly at astronomy buffs and casual users. Nightshade is a newly-launched fork of Stellarium designed exclusively for use for planetarium, teaching, and educational settings.

Nightshade, developed and maintained by astronomy software vendor Digitalis, was developed with an eye toward realism and includes planetarium-specific features like fisheye projection mode. Several new features have also been added to the project, such as lunar eclipse simulation.

Nightshade is available for Linux and Window, and the project is currently looking for developers to help build a package for Mac OS X. According to the project team, the decision to break from the Stellarium project was based on a desire to depart from Stellarium's desktop-heavy focus and plans to implement a new graphical interface. "In the process the simulation realism suffered and planetarium specific features were simply dropped without discussion. It became very apparent that the two different uses were not coexisting equally, and the decision was made to release Nightshade and build a community around this project that cares primarily about planetarium and educator usage," say team members.

"A fork is always a difficult situation in the open source world," says Robert Spearman, Digitalis President and co-founder, in a prepared statement. "We bear no ill will towards the Stellarium project, but for many reasons we feel this is the only way to guarantee that the needs of the planetarium community will be listened to. Now, with a growing community and a clean slate to start from, I think Nightshade can really take off."

Digitalis representatives say that though the company oversees Nightshade's development, it is "explicitly vendor neutral and will accept any patches that move the project forward." The project actively seeking volunteers to help with translations, landscapes, documentation, sky culture data, and more.