We've all heard of planets, stars and how far away they all are in the immensity that's commonly called 'outer space'. Celestia was made out of a need to experience this monstrosity first hand. Since the current space efforts are focused on recreating sixties sci-fi tech tropes (landing rockets and whatnot), we can rest assured that nobody reading this will ever get a chance to stick their face near the surface of the Sun or at least get tickled by Saturn's collar.
In this respect, virtual trips are all we have, and Celestia does a wonderful job at portraying outer space as realistically dull. Yes, the Earth has clouds and the stars have this fuzzy distant-sun effect that makes you feel awed, abandoned, and cold. But all in all, there's not much in the way of exciting visuals.
The interface does not help either. Many commands for movement and display are limited to keys only. So you'll need to keep the help window opened at all times like if working through a flight simulator. Except in this case you're not flying anything.
The second issue is finding points of interest. Besides clicking on visible lights, the Star Browser is hardly of any use, simply because for some reason you cannot sort items by name. The good thing is that you can find stars if you know their exact name or their friggin' space coordinates. So no worries there.
At least I should give Celestia credit for being so lifelike. The Cosmos TV series and Hubble paint...I mean the Hubble photos show outer space to be this wonderful, colorful ocean of space foam and space light bulbs when it most likely is a dark and cold place in which no one would ever feel bewildered or at ease.
I can't say that I was totally unimpressed by the graphical representations. The earth has a quasi-believable atmosphere effect when viewing the terminator line, and there's a tool for spotting eclipses... also Altair looks like a Tic-Tac. However, there's not much else going on in Celestia. Looking at orbs flying around is sort of like watching a time-lapse of paint drying on a wall.
- "The very accurate VSOP87 theory of planetary orbits"
- The Hipparcos catalog of 118,322 stars
- Moving clouds (totally unrealistic) and various other effects
- Eclipse Finder
- Solar system browser
- Star Browser
Navigating through Celestia is a bit harder than you'd think. Unless you know exactly what you're looking for, you might never find it. That added to a buggy star browser and lacking visual controls, makes Celestia a rather dull affair, only suited for nerds.