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Dr. Peter D. Lanagan: Software Tools


Software tools greatly simplify many tedious tasks related to planetary research. Below, I list several tools that I frequently use, and I provide some scripts that I have found useful in my work. In a few instances, I provide some issues I've had in getting these programs to work on my systems (Linux and WinPC-Cygwin).

Geospatial Software

Below, I provide links to mapping and image processing software I've found to be useful in my work. Eventually, I will add sections on how to use GRASS for planetary work and sample Gemeric Mapping Tools scripts.

Geographic Resources Analysis Support System (GRASS)

GRASS is a freely available, open source GIS package for Unix and Unix-like environments. With minor tweaks, GRASS can be used to analyze remote sensing datasets covering non-Earth planets.

Generic Mapping Tools (GMT)

GMT, maintained by Paul Wesel and Michael Smith at the Unviersity of Hawaii, is a set of ANSI-C programs for producing publication-quality figures for journals. However, GMT also contains routines useful for quantitative analyses of various datasets. GMT programs can be invoked from the command line or from scripts. The GMT authors provide scripts written in csh. I prefer to use PERL scripts. The GMT online manual could use some work, but the GMT tutorial comes with many useful and instructive scripts. GMT also comes with some of the most useful and complete man pages I've ever seen.

Integrated Software for Imaging Spectrometers (ISIS)

ISIS is a software package produced by USGS for planetary image processing.

NASA World Wind

NASA World Wind is a a client package which downloads terrain files and images from servers. Currently, topographic rendering of Earth, Moon, and Mars are possible. Planetary images of Venus, Jupiter, and the Galilean satellites are also available. A substantial community of contributers have written plug-ins to expand World Wind's capabilities. Currently, NASA World Wind is only available for MS Windows operating systems.

  • NASA World Wind Home Page
  • NASA World Wind Wiki
  • NASA World Wind Plug-Ins


LandSerf is a free (as in beer) Java-based GIS. This package only allows the display of a single raster at a time, and I haven't figured out how to modify it for nonterrestrial planets, but I've found it to be a useful tool adept at making quick and dirty GIS analyses. Landserf can also be used for terrain visualizations.
3DEM is a terrain visualization package for MS Windows.
Google Earth
Google Earth is a lot like NASA World Wind. Features of Google Earth which are better than NASA World Wind include more high resolution air photo coverage for regions outside the US, geocoding (address information), more vector vector layers, and an accurate measuring tool. However, the free version of Google Earth has fewer imaging layers available and does not have data for other planets available. (If someone knows of a Google Earth Mars plug-in, please let me know.)
Google Maps API
Google Maps has made the API available for web pages which do not charge user fees.
Window's Local Live
This is Microsoft's answer to Google Maps. The interface is a little buggier than Google Maps, but Local Live includes higher resolution air photos over some cities.
Shapefile C Library
Shapelib is a C library for manipulating ESRI shapefiles.

Planetary Science / Astronomy Software


Celestia is a freeware space simulator which allows the user to fly around the Solar System.


XEphem is a free (as in beer) package for amateur and professional astronomers. In addition to providing sky maps, XEphem also includes image processing tools, telescope controls, and plotting tools. The GUI is X-Windows ugly, but very usable.

Home Planet

Home Planet is an MS Windows package which provides sky maps, lunar phase data, and satellite tracking among other features.


JMARS is a Java-based GIS for identifying datasets which cover a particular regions of Mars.
Mars24 provides time-of-day and solar illumination information for any martian location for any date.
See the description above for Mars24 and replace "Mars" with "Titan" and "martian" with "titanian."
Heavens Above is a website which provides sky maps, information on satellite passes, and sun and moon data.
HORIZONS Ephemeris Generator
JPL's online ephemeris generator for astronomical targets.
Solar System Simulator
JPL's solar system generator provides an easy-to-use web-based interface for producing realistic images of Solar System bodies for any date.
U.S. Naval Observatory Data Services
Sun, moon, eclipse, tidal, and astronomical almanacs are available online.

Other Software Packages


Cygwin is a very nice UNIX emulator for Windows. Several UNIX-based scientific packages have been compiled for Cygwin. I've also found that many packages that have not been compiled for Cygwin are readily compiled from the source code with little or no changes required.


Gnuplot is a free (as in beer) package which produces nice plots suitable for scientific publicaitons.

Web-based tool for determining the current time anywhere in the world.