The Universe: A (Brief) Owner’s Manual

No space ship? No problem. A trip around our galaxy and beyond just takes a computer and six easy steps. Download the Hayden Planetarium’s Digital Universe—the most complete and scientifically accurate 3-D atlas of our universe—and you'll be on your way.

Set Up Mission Control

Your all-access pass to the universe requires at least a two-button mouse. If you are using a Macintosh computer or laptop, be sure to enable the secondary mouse button (in System Preferences) or use the control key along with the mouse button.

Choose the Right Universe

Head to the Museum’s Digital Universe website, choose the Download tab on the left, and accept the standard license agreements.

Unless you are a data visualizer or an educator, you’ll want to install just the Digital Universe. Choose the option for your operating system, then wait for the download to complete. It may take a minute—it’s only the entire observable universe!

Start Local

Once you open the Digital Universe folder, locate the Milky Way launch file. A couple of windows will open. Find the one called Partiview. You’ll be able to see stars that make up our galaxy.

When the atlas opens, you‘ll get the view of someone sitting on the surface of the Sun, without having to suffer the 9,900-degree (Fahrenheit) temperatures. You’ll start out facing Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, and Procyon, the eighth brightest. To get a 360-degree look, move the mouse across the screen while holding down the left mouse button.

Turn Up the View

You can select up to 45 elements to add to your sky by pressing navigation buttons at the top of the screen. These include:

G1: Stars — All of the nearby stars we see in the night sky

G4: Constel — Constellations such as Orion’s Belt and the Big Dipper

G7: Expl — Extrasolar planet systems—the locations of planets outside of our solar system

G8: OC — Open star clusters, loose groups of young stars within the Milky Way

G10: GC —Globular star clusters, which are just outside the Milky Way and are older and more sense than open star clusters.

Change the brightness of stars by moving the slider at the very top of the widow labeled “slum” (for star luminosity).

Steer Away from the Sun

Before you hop off the Sun to find your way around our solar neighborhood, turn off all of the groups except for G1—the stars. Just above the G1 button, you’ll see a down-arrow button with (o) for orbit. Click it to see the four types of flight modes available to you in the Digital Universe

Choose the “fly” mode, and, with the right mouse button pressed, move the mouse towards the left to reverse and fly away from the Sun. Once you’re gotten some distance, go back to the flight-modes menu and select “orbit” or (o). Now you can use the left mouse button to orbit the Sun and the right button to move forward and backward.

Get Out of the Galaxy

Once you’ve mastered these basics, you’re ready to test your skills outside of the Milky Way. Go back to the Digital Universe folder and select the ExtraGalactic command for your operating system. This opens a view with the Milky Way at the center. Now you’re free to fly around and explore the outer edges of the cosmos.

Want to master the universe? Start with the Digital Universe Guide e-book. You’ll find it in the Digital Universe folder.

Download the Digital Universe here and read an interview with Brian Abbott about how it's made. Don't forget to check out the Museum's new Space Show Dark Universe opening on November 2, 2013.