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The focus of this guide is on software designed to be used in the field of astronomy, including its branches of astrophysics, astrochemistry, astrobiology, physical cosmology, extragalactic astronomy, galactic astronomy, stellar astronomy, solar astronomy, and planetary science.

At one time, astrology was considered to be a branch of astronomy, but astrology is no longer considered a true science, and we list Astrology in the Paranormal categories.

Astronomy is one of the natural sciences and defined as the study of the sun, moon, planets, stars, galaxies, and other non-Earthly bodies and phenomena. In its curriculum for elementary school students, NASA defines astronomy as the study of stars, planets, and space.

Astrophysics is the branch of astronomy that relates to the physical nature of the stars and other celestial bodies, as well as the application of the laws of physics to the interpretation of astronomical observations.

Astrochemistry is the study of the chemical substances and species that may exist in the stars and interstellar space.

Also known as exobiology or xenobiology, astrobiology is the field of astronomy that deals with the search, existence, and nature of extraterrestrial life, which refers to life beyond Earth. Astrobiology encompasses areas of astronomy, biology, and geology.

Physical cosmology is the study of the large-scale structure of the universe, studying the fundamental questions of the formation and evolution of the universe.

The branch of astronomy concerned with objects outside of the Milky Way galaxy is known as extragalactic astronomy. Although at one time, it was believed that the Milky Way galaxy was all there was of the universe, millions of other galaxies have now been photographed and classified by scientists and others, and it is believed that there are about a hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe.

Stellar astronomy is the branch of astronomy that studies regularities in the structure, composition, dynamics, and evolution of stellar systems, as well as the applications of these observations on our stellar system, the Milky Way.

Solar astronomy relates to the study of the Sun and the phenomena that surround it, including the physics, chemistry, meteorology, motion, and evolution of the Sun, as well as its place in the universe.

Planetary science is an interdisciplinary branch of astronomy, involving physics, geology, astronomy, environmental studies, and other fields, that studies the composition of planets, how they operate, and the differences between them.

The chief topic of this guide is the use of software in astronomy and its related fields. The types of software listed here should be those applications used by scientists, not those that are designed to teach astronomy. We have another category for educational software.

Software is used in a variety of ways by astronomers.

Observation planning software is used to answer questions that an astronomer might need to have answered before spending nights on the telescope. During which period of the night will the target be observable? During that time interval, when is a galaxy, star, or solar system best observed? Is there a bright star near my faint target that I can use as a reference point? These questions are answered days or, in some cases, even years ahead of time, and software has been developed, often by astronomers themselves, that can help to answer these questions so that time spent at a telescope is more productive.

This might include airmass plotting tools, target planning applications, ephemeris tools, and software for offset guide star planning.

Software designed for use by astronomers might make use of the Flexible Image Transport System, more commonly referred to by its acronym, FITS. Because it was developed in the 1970s, in the early days of the computer, FITS imposes tedious coding constraints, but it continues to be used.

Data reduction software assists with the steps required to take raw data into data that is suitable for publication. In reference to astronomy, this may involve the removal of bad pixels, and the subtraction of bias, sky, and/or background, as well as flat fielding, balancing the variations in the pixel-to-pixel response of the detector.

Software tools designed for displaying images that were saved in the FITS format, and live images acquired pixel-by-pixel from the detector, would be appropriate for this category.

These are just a few. There are many others, and more will be developed in the future. Any software designed for use in astronomy is appropriate for this category, whether it is free and open-source, proprietary, or commercial. Software designed for astronomy hobbyists may be listed here as well, as significant astronomical discoveries have been made by hobbyists.



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