Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Starry Night Backyard Special Edition

Starry Night Backyard Special Edition

Spring 2001 Software
Ages: 7 - 15 yrs.
Price: $59.95
Platform: Win /Mac
Talk about high-concept, this desktop planetarium is almost as amazing as the night sky it so thoroughly pictures. The opening screen-- after you set your home location-- displays photo-realistic representations of the star-studded night sky with planets, moons comets, pretty much what you'd see if you stepped outside your house on a clear night. Not a clear night? There are adjustments for that too-slightly polluted sky, small city sky, etc. Controls from the pull-down toolbar across the top of the screen are like night and day, literally, providing the ability to change the date and time from the current setting. Kids going to bed at 9 p.m.? Click same date to 8:50 p.m. for a preview of what they can see-- constellations, the moon, stars-- for 10 minutes in any skyward direction before hitting the sack. Or even click the date and time settings back to see what the sky from any location on Earth looked like 2001 years ago, or on any specific date across a 15,000-year span! Use the Earthly viewpoint with realistic horizon and trees (even shadow during the daylight) for perspective; or eliminate it for pure heavens. Click "Atlas" in the tool bar for a more Earth-bound view of things; or click on any of the planets to see where the same longitude or latitude would look like on alien soil. Check out how the planets and constellations looked as they zoomed by the Hubble Space Telescope, or by using ordinary binoculars. Want to try a little solar travel? How about the midnight sun from Mars, or Earth from the moon. The options seem as infinite as the universe-- allowing the user to view any cosmic event from any place and time in the solar system. Professional astronomers, who use's "pro" version of this in their work, were impressed with the program's thoroughness and accuracy.

You'll be impressed with its appeal to youngsters whose heads will find a place in the stars. This program is so cool, it's enough to lure a kid into astronomy. The database in this program covers more than 19 million stars, planets, moons, galaxies and nebulae-- most of it from any perspective you want, including out there. Need more than a beautiful sight? Click "Interesting Events" for information on eclipses, etc.; easy connection to the Internet and the Starry Night web site adds endless information and learning opportunities. And features such as the "movie maker" enable kids to record celestial events and travel to playback for fun or school projects. This program's both out of this world-- and of it.

Don Oldenburg   ©2001 Parents' Choice
A former feature writer and consumer columnist at The Washington Post for 22 years, Don Oldenburg is the Director of Publications and Editor of the National Italian American Foundation, in Washington, D.C. He regularly reviews books for USA Today and is the coauthor of "The Washington DC-Baltimore Dog Lovers Companion" (Avalon Travel). The proud father of three sons, he lives with his journalist-author wife, Ann Oldenburg, in McLean, VA.

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