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Reviews of Science Software

SkyGazer - Guide to the Heavens
by Carina Software

For Grades 6 to 12 and up

See also the Summary Rating Table for comparisons with other Science Software programs, and the SuperKids Buyers Guide for current market prices of this Mac only title.


Reviewed on:
SkyGazer Screen Shot PowerMac 6100/60 with 24MB and 2XCD

Content
SkyGazer - Guide to the Heavens, is a sophisticated introductory astronomy program and reference guide. Utilizing data on over 4 million space objects from the Hubble Guide Star Catalog, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Catalog, and the Yale Bright Star Catalog, the program can create the sky as seen from any point on earth, at virtually any point in time.

Great, but would this help constellation-challenged parents point out Ursa Major to their kids? Yes and no.

The program provides two basic viewing schemes. The first is the standard, textbook style star chart - the type that some of our parent reviewers recalled holding up to the night sky, trying to rotate and align for time of year, time of night, and geographic location. "You remember - an exercise in total geo-spatial frustration," one parent wrote.

The second is much more appealing - the view from your own location. For this, the program asks the user to identify their location, either selecting from a list of cities, or by clicking on a location on the globe, or by entering a latitude and longitude. Then a simple click on a clock to tell the program when you will be looking at the sky, and voila! A pannable view from your own backyard! The only, and somewhat surprising drawback to this excellent feature, is that these views are not printable, only the standard version may be printed.

The user can choose to show stars based on brightness, planets, comets, deep-space objects, constellations, asterisms, and more.

Ease of Install / Use
SkyGazer installed without any difficulty on our test machines, with one small surprise: the user must first install the program files from two floppy disks onto the machine's hard drive. The CD in the package is an optional datafile which contains over 600 photographs, a couple of dozen interesting short movies, and a subset of the Hubble Guide Star Catalog.

This is a powerful program. As such, it is more complex to use than many programs aimed at the same age range. This does not, however, mean that it is difficult to use - simply more complex. (An analogy might be to the difference between using a bicycle and a car - both provide transportation, but one is more powerful and took longer to learn.)

Methodology
A major feature of this program, is the ability of the software to show celestial and planetary motion over time. Much as a planetarium shows the apparent motion of the stars and planets in the night sky resulting from the earth's rotation, SkyGazer allows the user to define time step intervals for motion. The result is uncannily like sitting in a planetarium. "The only thing missing, is a narrator explaining what it is you're looking at," noted one student. That's actually a pity - the addition of an audio narration option would make this a killer program!

The printed manual which comes with the program provides clear explanations of the program's functions, as well as an excellent glossary of astronomy terms and definitions. For example, we learned that the Big Dipper is actually an astersim, rather than a constellation.

Proxy Parent Value
Proxy parent value is SuperKids' measure of how well a program captures and maintains a user's interest. SkyGazer is a serious program, and makes no atempt to capture young children's interest through games or other standard edutainment tricks. Student's who are interested in astronomy, will find the program informative and fun to explore.

Best for...
SkyGazer is best suited for a user already interested in, or studying astronomy. The program contains an impressive collection of factoids to go along with its sky charting and object locating tools - but it is not a "planetarium in a box." Our teacher reviewers felt that SkyGazer would be an excellent classroom tool that could easily be used to support an astronomy curriculum.

Bottom-Line
This is a neat program for the astronomy lover/student.

Educational Value = 4/5, Kid Appeal = 3/5, Ease of Use = 3/5
Ratings Key

See also the Summary Rating Table for comparisons with other Science Software programs, and the SuperKids Buyers Guide for current market prices of this Mac only title.



Children's Software System Requirements


PC

Macintosh
Operating System n/a System 7.01 or later
CPU Type and Speed any color Mac
Hard Drive Space 3 MB
Memory (RAM) 2 MB free
Graphics 256 color display
CD-ROM Speed recommended
Audio
Other Needs

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