Nightshade Universe Simulator

What is it?

Nightshade is simulation and visualization software for teaching and exploring astronomy, Earth science, and related topics.

Nightshade development split from the award-winning Stellarium software to focus on planetarium and educator use. Nightshade Legacy is the current stable release. Nightshade NG, under heavy development, is a complete rewrite which removes inherited limitations in favor of adopting open simulation industry standards.

Our emphasis is on usability, realism, feature stability, and performance. Nightshade is backward compatible with scripts for Stellarium 0.8.2 and earlier using the StratoScript™ language developed and maintained by Digitalis Education Solutions, Inc.

It is available for Linux, Windows, Mac OSX, and other platforms.

Who uses it?

Nightshade is currently used as the simulation software on many digital planetarium systems, including hundreds of Digitarium® digital planetarium systems around the world.

Why another planetarium program?

Digitalis originally sponsored planetarium specific features in Stellarium such as fisheye projection mode. Digitalis later fixed bugs and added many new features such as the StratoScript scripting engine, lunar eclipse simulation, etc. Unfortunately Stellarium development focus shifted almost exclusively to desktop use, with large changes to implement a new graphical interface. In the process the simulation realism suffered and planetarium specific features were simply dropped without discussion. It was obvious that the two different uses were not coexisting, and we made the decision to release Nightshade and attempt to build a community around this project that cares primarily about planetarium and educator uses.

Why open source?

Open source software means that the source code is available for others to read, modify, copy, and redistribute. It also means that the minutest details are available for peer review and improvement by anyone on the planet. That is a huge advantage over the proprietary closed development model. Note that scripts written for Nightshade are yours and can be licensed however you wish.

Nightshade Legacy uses a free, open source license (GPL). The Nightshade NG desktop version source code is also openly available, but there are restrictions on use (such as in simulators or planetariums) so it does not meet the definition of “open source” popularized by the Open Source Initiative. See An Open Letter explaining why we made this change.

Please read about each version for license details.

How can I participate?

Even if you can’t write software, we can still use your help with translations, cultural sky data, testing, feature suggestions, landscapes, documentation, useful scripts, bug reports, and just spreading the word about our project.

Together we can accomplish so much more than any of us can alone.


  • Easy to use
  • Keystrokes are mostly compatible with Stellarium
  • Highly configurable
  • Unmatched starfield realism and configurability
  • Supports ~70 languages, including right-to-left and cursive languages like Arabic
  • Support for daylight savings and all world time zones (Linux)
  • Show moon or other body orbit visualizations
  • Explore a planet from above
  • Zoom to a location below the zenith for easier viewing in a dome
  • Support for distortion correction when the projector must be placed off-center
  • Load solar system objects (such as natural or artificial satellites, asteroids, comets, etc.) from a script
  • Play videos from a script (vendor specific)
  • Integration with media display/distortion correction software (vendor specific)
  • Lens distortion correction capabilities