RedShift has established itself as the chunkiest piece of astronomy software on the market, as befits its origins. Its makers are personnel of the former Soviet space programme, for whom creating consumer software (now distributed in the United King- dom by Dorling Kindersley) has become a valuable second career.
Now in its third manifestation, RedShift will continue to win plaudits for the sheer amount of data it contains. Click on the Pleiades, the notable star cluster in Taurus, and it tells you about the group in general and about the individual stars within it. The completion of the European Space Agency's big Hipparcos star catalogue means that more than a million stars down to the 12th magnitude (about the limit for impressive amateur telescopes) are now logged.
RedShift's critics add "clunky" to chunky in their descriptions. Other products such as TheSky look more American and are less painful to get acquainted with. RedShift's paperwork is less good than the software, and in particular the teacher packs are less useful than for some rival packages. Beautiful books are what made DK's name, but here there is only an on-screen manual which ought to be supplemented by something step-by-step in print.
However, RedShift 3 is an advance on the two earlier versions in form as well as content. There are large amounts of HTML-based material and Maris's software requires the presence of Internet Explorer 3.02 or above. IE4 and Quicktime can be installed from the disc.
It is now possible to make sky maps and other output fill the whole screen (or the whole page if you want to print them for outdoor use), getting the furniture off the screen until you call it back. And the sky itself looks quite remarkably realistic, except for the slow rate at which the image scans - you feel it ought to be as fast as turning your head, which is one thing even Intel's speediest creations cannot manage. The small images of sky objects such as galaxies are also very realistic.
The words on the disc, in particular on the various sky tour movies built into RedShift 3, have been thought through as carefully as the images, with subject tours on such topics as life in the universe - including that old Soviet favourite, the possibility of life on Mars.
Martin Ince is deputy editor of The THES.
ISBN - 0 7513 1724 1
Publisher - Maris Multimedia
Price - £29.99 inc VAT
Pages - Windows 95 CD