SEE HALLEY'S COMET ON YOUR ATARI
New software super-maps!by GIGI BISSON, Antic Assistant Editor
Space Base, Halley Patrol, and Earth
Views are three new educational programs that bring space vistas into
your living room with amazing impact.
This software opens up the mapmaking potential of 8-bit Atari computers in ways never seen before- rapidly producing sophisticated and scientifically accurate images.
It's doubtful whether these programs could have been written-or run-on any 64K computer but the Atari. Because sales were limited to the Atari market, the authors couldn't find a publisher willing to take a chance on such high-quality scientific material. So the programs are now available only from the Antic Arcade Catalog in this magazine.
It may be your only chance to see Halley's Comet.
"The comet won't be visible from the Northern Hemisphere unless you really go out of your way." says programmer and amateur astronomer Jeff Mehlman.
But with Mehlman's Halley Patrol, the comet will be visible on your Atari. It soars across the screen against a changing background of stars, as celestial coordinates flash below to indicate the location.
Click. Find out the best month to observe the comet, when the moon and sun aren't at their brightest in your hometown skies.
Click. Pick any day between November, 1985 and May, 1986-and find out where the comet is, how bright it will be, and what it will look like.
"I'd make a lot more money if I could also write this program for the Commodore and the Apple, says Mehlman. "But those other computers are too limited to handle it."
Mehlman is employed as a software systems analyst for the Best retail chain in Richmond, Virginia. He studied astronomy at Northwestern University.
"I was working on the graphics and trying hard to make the comet as realistic as possible, he recalls. My wife looked over my shoulder and said, 'Why don't you make it red with orange things shooting out of it or something?"'
He resisted the temptation to create a flashy lightshow. "The graphics would have been easy on the Atari," he says, "But I wanted to be astronomically accurate."
It's a cloudless, starry night. An extension cord snakes through the kitchen window onto the back patio, where a computer screen glows in the darkness.
"There's Orion," someone cries out. But is it really Orion? How do you know what you're really seeing in the heavens unless you squint at a sky atlas lit by a dim flashlight?
Enter the realm of computer-aided stargazing. Move your joystick to the right and an astronomical map of the 400 brightest stars in a vivid blue Milky Way Galaxy scroll by.
Zero in on Orion, press the joystick button and a starchart pops on the screen, indicating the star's color and temperature, along with its name, spectral type, distance from Earth in light years and other scientific information.
Press the button again, and a multicolored Hertzsprung-Russell diagram appears. This is an astronomy classification tool that indicates a star's color, temperature, luminosity and size in comparison to other stars.
These are just a few of the ways you can use Space Base ($19.95, AP142), an astronomical database and sky atlas for the Atari.
Halley Patrol author Mehlman also wrote Space Base. And he is currently finishing an enhanced version of Space Base that works with a Celestron Sky-Sensor Telescope. With the new software and an RS-232 interface, the telescope will move to find an actual star in the sky that has been selected from the database starchart by pressing the joystick trigger.
The database for the software that controls the Celestron motor happens to be the same one used in Space Base, the Messier Catalog. It lists the 285 brightest stars among the 3,000 that are visible to the naked eye.
Mehlman also ended up writing nearly a full textbook of documentation for Space Base. "The program teaches the equivalent of about one year of college astronomy," he says. "Even if you just play around with it, sooner or later you're bound to learn something."
He daydreams about seeing Space Base used in a museum or observatory lobby. "This is the only fully labelled star atlas you can get," he says. The Greek letters, special star symbols, fine scrolling and minute detail are only possible with the Atari's redefined character capabilities. "Star programs on other personal computers just show a bunch of dots," he says.
Control the world with your joystick. Watch the Earth rotate in your Atari computer. Call up 250,000 different maps, each linked to a huge database of cities, states and continents. Get lost in the privacy of your own home.
Richard Wilson's Earth Views ($19.95, APl4l) does some of the amazing things you expected from personal computers when you first bought one-and also some amazing things you weren't expecting.
Earth Views is the first program you can buy for any personal computer that depicts a 3-D image of the earth in rotation on any axis. It's also a geography lesson, trivia quiz, atlas and adventure game.
Wilson's globe display revolves on any axis, or from either pole. A geographic database of some 250,000 different views of Earth can be accessed 29 different ways from the keyboard and joystick. Instantly you can see Japan, Ancient Greece, Stonehenge, Delaware, Timbuktu. Map after map flashes up in high resolution format, so fast that it creates an illusion of "paging" from a huge mainframe computer.
When you put in the disk a flat map of the world appears, overlaid with a view of the earth as seen from space. Press [START] and the earth will begin to rotate. Press [SELECT] and you'll see the question "What place?"
Type in the first four letters of any state, province, river, island, nation, etc. For example; Lima, Peru. Instantly a world map appears, as seen from the viewpoint of a satellite hovering directly above Lima.
Ever wonder where you would end up if you tried to dig a hole to China from your hometown? Press the Inverse Video key and get an immediate display of the exact opposite end of the world.
Use the joystick to move an "airplane" over the world. Press [RETURN] and the name of that place appears. But if you fly over the Bermuda Triangle, watch out. . . You'll be sent on a geographical adventure/trivia game that fires off names of far flung places. You find one part of the world, only to be sent on another distant quest.
"Don't be embarassed if you don't have the faintest idea where a place is located," says Earth Views author Wilson. "The world is a big place, and even college-educated Americans are sadly weak in their knowledge of geography." He included a [HELP] key compass for those of us with a lousy sense of direction.