It is very difficult to get a three dimensional perspective on our galaxy. Stuck as we are inside it, it took us a long long time to figure out how far we are from the center, and how far we are from the outer edge. It is hard to figure out which is up and out toward Andromeda when we don’t exactly have a perspective on which way is down out of the galaxy.
It is all just a three dimensional mental mess.
But there is software to help. Keith Ebbeke send me a link to some neat software called “Where is M13?”
This straightforward software allows you to see side-by-side views of the galaxy from the top down and edge on and see where things are located from both perspectives at the same time. You can also switch to a sky view, and see where things are if you happen to opt to go outside and look up.
“Where is M13?” is free and available for both Mac, Linux and Windows. It contains several prominent catalogues of objects, including the Messier, NGC, and Caldwell catalogues. Next time you go to a star party, consider taking this with you on your laptop. It is just cool to be able to get a scale for the cosmos while also looking out through your laptop.