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The Earth Centered Universe.

MOST PEOPLE will encounter The Earth Centered Universe (or ECU, as it is popularly known) as shareware -- software you try for free, then send money to the author to register your copy -- on a computer bulletin-board system or in collections of shareware and public-domain software. Although shareware has the reputation of being low quality, ECU is one of the pleasant exceptions. It's a very attractive sky simulator that provides all that many amateurs will need.

ECU recreates the sky as seen from any location on Earth throughout a 14,000-year time span. It offers 10,367 deep-space objects (version 5.2 of the Saguaro Astronomy Club database), the Sun, Moon, planets, a set of asteroids and comets (you can add more), constellation outlines and boundaries, coordinate lines, and more. Click on any object for descriptive information, zoom in and out, set magnitude limits, view solar eclipses, animate planet motions, and print charts. All these are standard in a contemporary sky-simulation program, but ECU implements them nicely.

Accuracy is surprisingly high. ECU faithfully found the contact times of May 10th's annular eclipse to within a minute, and it reproduces planetary conjunctions of the distant past.

ECU does an awful lot but not everything. It has no local horizon mode to show the sky as it would appear from your observing site. It will not print tables of coordinates or rising and setting times. Planets are represented as points (or symbols), so you cannot simulate occultations. You cannot view lunar eclipses. These are not complaints; the program does quite a lot.

I found ECU impressive for its speed and ease of use. On my 486 it's so fast that the screen redraws almost instantly, regardless of the operation. The controls and menus are laid out in a completely intuitive and sensible way, making it the easiest-to-use full-featured program I've seen. (Developers of astronomical software might take note.) It's a delight.

ECU also supports using the digital setting circles for Meade LX-200 telescopes and JMI's SGT-MAX. With them, the computer's monitor shows where the telescope is pointed. It also slews the telescope to an object in the database.

When purchased from the vendor ECU comes with a detailed 80-page manual. The standard edition includes the complete program with 9,110 stars to magnitude 6.5. The enhanced edition, which adds 246,000 stars to magnitude 9.5 from the SAO Catalog, is a bargain.

JOHN E. MOSLEY produces the planetarium shows at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.

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Title Annotation:Software Review
Author:Mosely, John E.
Publication:Sky & Telescope
Article Type:Evaluation
Date:Sep 1, 1994
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