I like to think of myself as a writer, but one of the problems I keep running into is that the characters in my stories tend to know a lot more about certain topics than I do. Take, for example, Hijū from the Mecha Monogatari. She is an avid motorcyclist, and rides like a demon, but I’ve never rode a motorcycle before. Why, it’s been well over a decade and a half since I was on a bicycle. How to you ride a motorcycle? More importantly, how do you accelerate and brake, change gears, and use that clutch thing? The Internet, though not truly omniscient (like Al Gore had originally intended), is almost omniscient, and it did not take long to find a sufficiently detailed explanation of the processes involved.
Of course, I guess I could have actually, oh, I don’t know, actually went out and learned how to actually ride a motorcycle, but I’m terribly lazy, and consulting the Great Sage Google was much easier, and much less likely to end with a funeral.
Other questions exceed even the vast and infinite ‘net, largely by being very, very specific. For example, if you were writing about a character who was an amateur astronomer, they could reasonably be expected to know the constellations and identify with reasonable accuracy a large number of celestial bodies. To demonstrate said character’s knowledge, you could have them out at night, pointing out Venus and Aldebaran and…I don’t know, other stars and stuff. I could just make up a skyful of planets and stars and constellations and whatall for my fictional character to be seeing in the fictional world of my fictional story, but I have this nagging fear that some real astronomy buff will come along and say something like, “Hey, moron. Just for the record, Polaris and the Southern Cross can not both be seen except on the Equator. Get off my Internet. —AG.”
So it would help if I knew what was in the sky. A star chart would be nice. Given that my stories tend to take place in locales far from the United States, and in times quite a bit into the future and/or past, it would be even better if I could program in a location and a date, and see exactly what was up in the sky. It would be perfectly awesome if I didn’t have to pay outrageous sums for said star chart, too (I’m a cheapskate. Sue me).
KStars 1.2.9 to the rescue. It was free, it downloaded and installed quite easily through Ubuntu’s Synaptic Package Manager, and I managed to figure out the basics of how to use it without even having to reference the manual. It even has a little tool showing the planets in relation to each other from a top-down point of view. Perfect!
Set your location either from a list of major cities worldwide or by inputting the longitude and latitude, adjust the ‘current’ date and time as much as you want, and voilà! You have a nice map of the sky, showing the planets, stars, galaxies, the works.
So now I can say with a reasonable degree of certainty that if I were in to Tokyo at midnight on October 11, 2016, and looked straight up I could see the Triangulum and Andromeda constellations (assuming I could see anything past the light pollution of the Tokyo megalopolis). KStars is a terribly useful little tool, not just for astronomy buffs but also for writers who might feel compelled to write about what’s up in the sky.
Given that I’m both, I am loving KStars.