If you run Windows the question as to which free sky mapping software to install is trivial, install Cartes du Ciel. If you run Linux, the question is equally as trivial, use KStars. However, if you run Mac OS X things have traditionally not been so good. I have not found a single good free sky mapping program for OS X. So, instead I have switched my attention to getting either the Linux option or the Windows option working on the Mac.

I had hopped that CrossOver Mac would run Cartes du Ciel but it does not. I tried both V2.7 and the version 3.0 beta but, although both installed, neither worked. 2.7 did run better than 3.0 but failed to render the actual maps so it was still useless! That leaves us with just KStars. This does work on OS X but installing it is not as straightforward as one would hope.

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This is not a procedure to start unless you have an afternoon or an evening to spare to baby-sit the process. There is very little you actually have to do but occasionally you'll have to give input. Bear in mind that KStars is part of the Edutainment package for KDE so you are basically going to be downloading and building the guts of KDE on top of KStars, that's no small task Smile

Prerequisites for KStars 

Before installing KStars you will need to install Apple's X11 (on the OS X DVD), Fink (including it's GUI Fink Commander) and Apple's XCode developer tools (because we have to build KStars from source). Installing X11 and XCode is easy, installing Fink is a little more involved but there are excellent instructions on the Fink web page so there's no point in my repeating them here.

Configuring Fink

KStars is currently considered experimental on OS X so you have to tell Fink that you are happy to install 'unstable' packages. To do this launch the FinkCommander app go to the FinkCommander menu and select Preferences.... In the new Window that pops up go to the Fink tab and select the check-box to use unstable packages. Click OK. You'll be asked for your password at this stage and then Fink will take a few minutes to update itself and add the unstable packages to it's list of packages.

Small Version of Configure Fink image
Click to enlarge

Installing KStars

Now, simply enter KStars into the search bar in FinkCommander, and it should find the KStars package. Because KStars is still 'unstable' there is no binary version of it available so you have to install from source. Right click the KStars package and select Source -> Install. Fink will now go off and get all the packages KStars needs and then KStars itself and then automatically build the lot for you. This may take some time and you may be asked for your password a few times during this process, this is normal on OS X for security reasons. You will also be asked a number of questions, you can accept the default answer on them all except the third one. Lynx does not install correctly (at least on PPC macs) so select links (option 3) instead. Once it starts downloading and compiling you can leave it alone. I generally leave this part running over night because it takes a few hours.

 Small Version of Install KStars
Click to enlarge

Running KStars

KStars is now installed but don't expect to see an icon for it or anything like that. To run it you have to get your hands dirty in a terminal. To do this start X11 and then in the terminal that opens up enter /sw/bin/kstars and KStars will start. This is not nice to have to do so I have written a small AppleScript app to launch KStars from the Dock or the Applications folder like a regular app. You can get this launcher on the downloads page on my home page. Just open the DMG and drag and drop the KStars Launcher app into your Applications folder.


19 Responses to “Free Astronomy Software on Mac OS X – Installing KStars”

  1. PPCMLA Press Corps » Blog Archive » KStars on OS 9? on June 14th, 2007 7:47 am

    [...] But we’re not done. You still have to get KStars! If you are running OS X 10.3.9 or ealier, installing KStars is as simple a matter as downloading it from FinkCommander. If you are running OS X 10.4 or higher, KStars is not in the pre-built download list in FinkCommander. If that is the case, you’ll have to build KStars from source. That is actually a lot easier to do than you might think. Just follow the directions here. [...]

  2. Gene van Troyer on August 27th, 2007 2:09 pm

    I use OSX 10.4.10 on an iMac G4.

    I followed the instructions given on your page for installing KStars, but FinkCommander doesn’t seem to wand to add the downloaded KStars-1.2 package to its list. I have the downloaded the source folder from the KDE Edutainment site and it is located in my Applications folder.

    Any suggestions?

  3. Bart B on August 27th, 2007 2:58 pm

    Hi Gene,

    The only other thing I could suggest would be to try install the kdeedu3 package from Darwin Ports (darwinports.com). I’m not 100% sure that does contain KStars but it really should.

    Good luck!


  4. Kenny C. on September 5th, 2007 6:20 pm

    Have you looked at Stellarium for Mac? I’ve found it to be very easy to use in the field.

  5. Bart B on September 6th, 2007 3:03 am

    Hi Kenny,

    I did give it a go about a year ago but it gave me a lot of trouble and kept crashing on my MacBookPro so I got rid of it. It’s probably moved on over the last year so I should probably give it another shot. This install procedure for KStars does work but it’s certainly not for the faint-hearted! I’ll be upgrading to Leopard as soon as it’s out and I’m not sure how much work it will be to get KStars to play nice on it … perhaps the time is right to move away from KStars on the Mac.

    Thanks for your comment,


  6. Derek Bell on October 10th, 2007 9:10 pm

    What do you think of other freely-available packages such as xephem? (Note careful wording to avoid possible controversy over licences.)

  7. Bart B on October 11th, 2007 2:33 am

    Hi Derek,

    Nicely worded comment ;)

    I did manage to install Xephem on OS X once. I remember it taking me a lot of time, effort and googling. when I did get it installed it reminded me of exactly why scientists make such terrible software engineers. I’m sure it’s immensely powerful under the hood but the interface is so poor that I never did get any use out of it.

    I hear real astronomers rave about what it can do though, so I’m sure it has it’s uses. It just didn’t appeal to me one bit.


  8. greenmeanie on November 7th, 2007 4:21 am

    I would like the software to control my meade telescope like Kstars does.

  9. Ed on January 12th, 2008 12:15 am

    Hi – thanks for putting the KStars for Mac doc online. I will give it a spin.

    All enthusiasts who just want to see something working out of the box should take a look at Stellarium (www.stellarium.org). Nice interface and lots of information available, I would think it’s probably not so mature as KStars but it installs in seconds!


  10. Bart B on January 12th, 2008 12:46 am

    Thanks for your comment Ed. I didn’t used to recommend Stellarium because the early Mac versions were terribly buggy. I could never even get it to launch on my MacBookPro! However, things have come on a LONG way since. Now it works like a charm. The interface really could be better on some fronts but to just see what’s where right now it’s perfect.


  11. Gerald on January 17th, 2008 4:19 am

    Has anyone tried to get cartes du ciel working in x11 on MacOS X? I’m not a Unix head so I’m having trouble with the Unix download.


  12. Bart B on January 17th, 2008 12:24 pm

    Hi Gerald, I always loved Cartes du Ciel when I was a Windows user. I did try to get the Windows one working under CrossOver Mac but that didn’t work at all well.

    There is an OS X DMG available from here: http://www.ap-i.net/skychart/index.php. This is a simple drag-and-drop install but appears to be Intel-only as it gave me an error that my platform was not supported when I tried to run it on my G5 PowerMac. I must try it on my Laptop later.


  13. Gerald on January 18th, 2008 5:58 am

    Hi Bart,

    Yes, I did the same thing on my PPC G4 mac and got the same message. I have let other mac users know CDC is an easy install on Intel Macs.

    I installed X11 in Tiger to try CDC in that environment, but can’t quite figure out how to install. Some UNIX knowledge required and I don’t have any!

    I wrote CDC’s author thanking him for his work getting it over to OSX and asked him for advice to get it working on a G4Mac. Will let you know if he can assist. Do let me know if you get CDC to work on your laptop!


  14. daniel h on June 28th, 2008 12:25 am

    I get this message when trying to install – wht do i do??
    fink needs help picking an alternative to satisfy a virtual dependency. The
    (1) openslp-ssl-dev: Development files for OpenSLP
    (2) openslp-dev: Development files for OpenSLP

    Pick one: [1]

    fink needs help picking an alternative to satisfy a virtual dependency. The
    (1) help2man: Generates man pages from program output
    (2) help2man-perl586: Generates man pages from program output

    Pick one: [1]
    Invalid choice. Please try again [1]

  15. Bart B on June 29th, 2008 2:12 pm

    Hi Daniel,

    All you can do is try picking one or the other. It doesn’t matter which you choose in either case, KStars will work with both. You might be interested in some of the easier ways of installing KStars which have now come along: http://www.bartbusschots.ie/blog/?p=658


  16. Rand on September 9th, 2008 1:59 am

    Stellarium works very well on my Intel iMac running OS X 10.5. Simple easy free download with lots of nice features… hard to beat. Rand.

  17. Jeremy on November 17th, 2008 3:55 am

    Sounds pretty interesting and fun. I’ll have to check this one out when I get a chance. Thanks for posting this.

  18. Darrel on February 10th, 2009 2:10 am

    Cartes du Ciel is now available for Intel Mac at:

  19. Free Astronomy Software on the Mac Revisited : Bart Busschots on April 19th, 2012 7:17 pm

    [...] last time I posted on the state of play for free Astronomy software for the Mac things weren't looking so good. At that time your best option was to build the Linux program KStars [...]

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