The Virtual Starship
StarView enables you to take a fantasy flight among the stars in the Sun's
immediate neighborhood. It will tell you what the Sun looks like
from Sirius and Altair. It will even provide you with stereoscopic
views and astronomical data which you can use to select a star that is
likely to have Earthlike planets.
StarView is based on data from The
Astrogator's Handbook by Michael
McCollum. This reference contains a wealth of information on
locating stars that could support habitable planetary systems, along with
detailed data on the 272 stars closest to Earth. Michael's site, Scifi-Arizona,
is a must-see for science fiction fans and aspiring writers. Be sure
to drop by before blasting off on your next interstellar journey!
Using the View Window
The view window occupies most of the area of the StarView applet. It
represents the view from the front of your virtual spaceship. As you
move the mouse pointer near each star, its name appears, and information
about the star is listed just below the view window. Clicking the
mouse button will instantly transport you to the currently selected star,
with the front of your ship facing the Sun.
When the program starts, your ship is located at the Sun, and the nose is
pointed in the direction of Earth's north pole.
Interpreting Star Data
Information on the currently selected star appears just beneath the view
window. One set of data is shown for single-star systems; multiple
sets are shown for systems which are comprised of more than one star.
||The name of the star appears on
the first line of the display.
||The second line of the display
shows the star's luminosity.
Use this number to compare the star's energy output to that of the
Sun, whose luminosity is approximately 1. Extremely dim stars
are unlikely to heat any of their planets sufficiently to produce
conditions conducive to life. Very bright stars tend to burn
out quickly, and life would not have sufficient time to evolve on
||The third line of the display
shows the star's distance (in light years) from the user's current
||The fourth line of the display
shows the star's spectral
type. Keep in mind that extremely energetic stars (those
of types O through A) will blast their planets with high doses of
ultraviolet radiation, which is detrimental to the evolution of
Operating the Mode Switches
Four mode switches are located at the bottom of the StarView applet.
Click on these buttons to use the controls associated with the various
||Use these controls to move your
ship through space or to point it to a particular spot in the sky.
||These controls affect how the
stars are drawn in the view window.
||Select this button to see a list
of stars that you can instantly jump to. If the stars are your
destination, then jaunting
is the only way to go.
||Pressing this button will
produce the same list of stars as the Jaunte button. Select
one of these stars, and it will be centered in the view window.
(You cannot view the star that you are currently visiting, because
the light would fry your monitor.)
Before using the navigation controls, it is first necessary to understand
the StarView coordinate systems. The light
year is the unit of distance used by the program. Each star is
assigned coordinates relative to the location of the Sun.
The Z axis of the celestial coordinate system coincides with the Earth's
axis of rotation; the positive end of the Z axis lies in the direction of
the Earth's north pole. The X axis points to a location in the sky
which is known as the first
point in Aries, while the Y axis points toward a spot in the
Your ship has its own coordinate system. The positive Z axis points
from the nose of the ship. The Y axis points from the ship's belly,
and the X axis points from the right control fin (which is so vital to
maneuvering in the vacuum of space). As seen in the applet, the
ship's Z axis points directly into the center of the view window; the X
axis points toward the right edge of the view window, and the Y axis
points toward the bottom edge.
When the program starts, the origin and axes of the ship's coordinate
system coincide with those of the celestial coordinate system; that is,
your ship is aligned with Earth's north pole, and the first point in Aries
is to your right.
|Navigation Control Panel
The three slider controls at the top of the panel (marked "Absolute
motion") move the ship along the axes of the celestial coordinate
system. The three slider controls at the bottom of the panel (marked
"View motion") move the ship along the axes of the spaceship
coordinate system; the slider marked "Z" corresponds to the
ship's thrust control.
Your ship's current coordinates are displayed just above the View Motion
sliders. These are expressed as the distance of the viewpoint from
the Sun in light years, along the axes of the celestial coordinate system.
The axes near the center of the panel control the orientation of your
spacecraft. They represent the axes of the spaceship coordinate
system. Click-and-drag on this area to change the direction that
your ship is pointing. These axes exist in three dimensions, but due
to the limitations of computer displays, they must be drawn in two
dimensions. The intensity of the colors indicates the third
dimension: brightly colored axes are "pointing out" of the
plane of the screen toward the viewer; dim axes are "pointing into"
the plane of the screen away from the viewer.
Beneath the orientation axes are two rows of numbers; these indicate the Right
Ascension and Declination
of the spaceship's Z axis. These values can be used for specifying a
spot on the celestial
sphere, much as longitude and latitude are used to fix one's position
on the surface of the Earth.
Style Control Panel
The three buttons toward the top of the panel control the size of each
star drawn in the view window.
||The size of each star is
determined by its apparent
magnitude, as viewed from the current location of the spaceship.
The largest stars are of magnitude one and brighter. The
smallest stars are of magnitude six and dimmer.
||The size of each star is
determined by its absolute
magnitude. This means that stars with greater intrinsic luminosity
appear larger, regardless of their distance from the viewer's
||The size of each star is
determined by its distance from the viewer's spacecraft; closer
stars appear larger, while more distant stars appear smaller.
Neither the brightness nor the actual size of the star play any role
in calculating its size as drawn by the program.
The Zoom slider, located near the center of the Style Control Panel,
controls the focal length of the virtual camera used to view the stars.
Moving the slider to the left decreases the focal length, resulting in
wide-angle views. Moving the slider to the right increases the focal
length, resulting in telephoto views. Note that extremely wide-angle
views can cause "fisheye" distortion in the image.
The Mono and Stereo buttons enable stereoscopic views. To enjoy the
full stereoscopic effect, the use of an adjustable
stereo viewer is recommended. The Stereo Separation slider
controls the length of the baseline between the "left" and
"right" cameras used to render the stereo images; this length
can be adjusted from zero to 1.3 light years.
Jaunte Control Panel
This panel contains a list of stars that are possible Jaunte destinations.
Use the slider along the right edge of the list to scroll through the star
names. Click on a name, and you will be instantly transported to the
selected star. Upon your arrival, the nose of your ship will be
pointing towards the Sun.
"Look At" Control Panel
This panel contains a list of stars in the StarView database. Use
the slider along the right edge of the list to scroll through the star
names. When you click on a name, the selected star will be centered
in the viewscreen. Stars in the immediate vicinity (.01 light-year
radius) of your current location will not be visible.