Where is M13?

By Phil Plait | September 30, 2009 12:00 pm

One problem with astronomical observing is its two-dimensional nature. You can point a telescope at a star, a planet, or a galaxy, but they all look pretty much infinitely far away (if you’re walking, that’s pretty much a fact).

So some new software called Whereis M13? looks pretty interesting. It’s an interactive 3D galaxy atlas, and it gives lots of info and a graphical display of the location of a particular object in space. For example, here is the eponymous M13:


You can see it gives info in the window, as well as a view looking down at the galactic disk as well as along the plane of the galaxy, and you can see that M13, a globular cluster, is well above the galactic plane.

It’s a rather basic app at the moment, but it’s a) free, and 2) promising. I think that with more features this could be a very cool and educational piece of software.

Tip o’ the redshift to BABloggee Keith Ebbecke.


Comments (33)


    Anything that’s free, that’s for me! :-)

    I’m a freeloader! ūüėé

  2. grammarbot

    > One problem with astronomical observing is it’s two-dimensional nature.

    Please fix the it’s! (then delete me)

  3. Steve

    >> I’m a freeloader

    That’s an insulting and derogatory term. We prefer to be referred to as freetards.

  4. Can I be a Free(down)loader? 8)

    Looks like a fun app to have along with Celestia and Stellarium.

  5. So where is Moonbase Alpha right now?

  6. Brain Hertz

    Well, it is very cool, but it isn’t new. This has actually been around for quite some time.

    Still, download it! It’s free!

  7. Niles

    It’s a fun little app – and it came out a while ago (versiontracker says ~2005). This is just the most recent update.


  8. Hey, so that’s where M13 is. I had no idea!

    I prefer to conceptualize things spatially, so this sounds right up my alley.

  9. John

    So, which actual galaxy is standing in for the topdown “atlas” of our own?

  10. Joe

    Have you tried Celestia?

    Also free/3d. It’s really cool when you load some of the galaxy data sets.

  11. Bart

    Fraser Cain linked to Pamela Gay’s review of “Where’s M13” on the Universe Today blog, back in February 2008. http://www.starstryder.com/2008/02/07/your-place-in-space/

  12. Bill

    > it’s a) free, and 2) promising

    iii) Heh…I see what you did there

  13. SteveN

    that title scared me for a moment–reminded me of the Death of the Skies bit about how the first sign of the approach of a black hole toward Earth would shift the locations of celestial objects as viewed on Earth

  14. Mike

    What a cool little app.. I love it!

  15. Cynthia

    Please remove the apostrophe in the first line: “One problem with astronomical observing is it‚Äôs two-dimensional nature” should be: “One problem with astronomical observing is its two-dimensional nature” reflecting the possessive form.

  16. David D.G.

    Ah, but where’s Waldo? And where in the universe is Carmen Sandiego?

    ~David D.G.

  17. One of the nice things about Where Is M13 is that it runs on Linux and MacOS as well as Windows. As a Linux user I really appreciate that.

    Another truly excellent astronomy program that runs on Linux and Macs (and Windows with a bit of difficulty) is XEphem.


    The user interface is old and crufty, but this program packs some serious power, easily beating every other piece of astronomy software I’ve ever seen. It’s free, although if you purchase it you get huge amounts of extra data files.

  18. More features like … updating their map of the galaxy, for example? From the picture, it looks like they’re still using the old map, showing what people used to think the Milky Way galaxy looked like two years ago.

  19. Eighthman

    Revised, perhaps (and much improved), but not “new.” I remember playing with a version of this after reading about it in Sky & Telescope years ago. The release notes show it dates back to 2005.

  20. @◊ĀJoe:
    How do you get these side views in Celestia? I’ve used it a few times but I’ve never seen that feature. Thanks!

  21. DK

    M13, the “Homeworld” Galaxy.

  22. Yeebok Shu'in

    Hey Phil, thanks for the heads up. For info, it requires Java.. so if you ain’t got that you need it too.. didn’t realise I don’t have it installed on this Win7 PC

  23. MadScientist

    I don’t know, but my M14 was rendered inoperable then surrendered for disposal since I couldn’t take it with me overseas (and I wouldn’t trust the people who are supposed to dispose of it to do a proper job of destroying it). *sniff* My M14 and I had some fun times …

  24. ND

    Yaaaay, runs on Linux. Otherwise I would have had to try my luck with Wine to run a windows app.

    Oh and Celestia and Stellarium both rock as well.

    I don’t see the zoom slider on the left side when running on linux. According to the screenshots, they should be there. Does anyone else see it?

  25. Ubermoogle

    So, since M13 is above the galactic plane, does that mean it is travelling in front of, or behind the direction our galaxy is moving in?

  26. Steve J

    comment 11 – where can I find out what people think the Milky Way looks like now? What has changed since 2 years ago?

    comment 18 – I believe the sun is moving in a circular orbit around the Galactic centre (or center). On the left hand image it would be clockwise so it is moving up on the left hand image towards the constellation of Cygnus or into the screen on the right hand image.
    I think the whole Galaxy (and the whole local group) is moving towards the constellations Centaurus/Hydra which is approximately down on the left hand image or out of the screen on the right hand image. I would also love to read some comments/corrections on this.

  27. Joe

    @Dotan Cohen

    There’s some cool data plots of galaxies here:


    If you use your mouse buttons (and zoom waaay out) you can revolve around the galaxies and get a real good feel for how 3d and vast the universe is.

    Also you can clearly see the exclusion zone caused by our own galaxy.

  28. FC

    I would be really surprised if you couldn’t run it on Linux, the screenshots just scream: Javaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!

  29. Rod Mollise

    Nice to see this program getting some notice…but it’s been doing a fine job of letting kids (and everybody else) visualize where those deep sky wonders are for YEARS.

  30. Bill Tschummy just spoke at the Texas Astronomical Society’s monthly meeting in September and did a marvelous job! This program is exceptionally cool to demonstrate to people where things are that they see all the time. An absolutely wonderful outreach tool that kids especially love. Give him some support and thanks for such a cool little tool!

  31. Matthew Ota

    I used this fine program when I was an operator at the 16 inch at Mt Wilson Observatory. I was able to show clients the locations of objects they were seeing. I continue to use it for astronomy outreach with my portable telescope.

  32. Hi, I’m the author of “Where is M13?” First, thanks for all this kind words about the program.

    The screen shots of the program do indeed show the “old” Spitzer Galaxy image. That’s only because I haven’t had time (or inclination) to redo all the screen shot on my web site. However, the actual software does use the latest artist’s conception based upon the latest data from the Spitzer Space Telescope. So rest assured it is fully up to date.


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