3-D Starmaps

(Thanks to Jonathan Lang for that catchy title.)


HYG Database

A great all-around set of star data is the HYG Database. This incredibly useful dataset was created by David Nash by merging the Hipparcos Catalog, the Yale Bright Star Catalog (5th Edition), and the Gliese Catalog of Nearby Stars (3rd Edition), then weeding it down to useful size. This database contains ALL stars that are either brighter than magnitude +7.5 or within 50 parsecs (about 160 light years) from the Sun, a total of 31,859 stars. It is in Comma Separated Value (.csv) format, which most spreadsheets and database programs can import. If you want quality data but are unwilling to do the drudge work, this is the dataset to use!


Scientists Jill Tarter and Margaret Turnbull have compiled a massive dataset of nearby stars that it is not impossible for them to host habitable planets. Note that "habitable" does not necessarily mean "human habitable". They winnowed down the 120,000-odd stars in the Hipparcos dataset into 17,129 prime stars. Seventy-five percent are within 140 parsecs (450 light years). Please note that while they have removed all stars incapable of hosting a habitable planet, the remaining stars in the database are not guaranteed to have such a planet. The stars in the database are those "worthy of a closer look."

The HabCat dataset is available here in a Zip archive. The un-zipped dataset is in CSV format. The columns are Hipparcos catalog number, Right Ascension (in the form HH MM SS), Declination (in the form +-DD MM SS), Apparent Magnitude, Parallax in milliarcsecs (parsecs = milliarcsecs/1000), error in parallax, B-V color index, error in color index, CCDM catalog number (CATALOGUE OF COMPONENTS OF DOUBLE AND MULTIPLE STARS), HD catalog number (Henry Draper), and BD catalog number (Bonner Durchmusterung).Here is a re-print of the article describing the methodology used.


HabHYG is a dataset I whipped up myself. It is basically the HYG database merged with the HabCat database. Beware that errors might have crept in, serious researchers should go back to the primary sources. The file is a Zip archive of a CSV format file. Note that there is only one entry for each star system, the extra stars in binary and trinary star systems are not shown.

The fields are HabHyg index (a number I invented to ensure that each entry had a unique number associated with it), Hipparcos catalog number, Habitable? flag (1 = habitable), Star Display Name (of all the names of this particular star, the one that I found personally the most asthetically pleasing), Hyg catalog number, Bayer-Flamsteed name, Gliese catalog number, BD catalog number (Bonner Durchmusterung), HD catalog number (Henry Draper), HR catalog number (Hoffleit Bright Star), Proper Name (e.g., "Sirius"), Spectral Class, Distance from Sun in parsecs, Galactic cartesean co-ordinates (epoch 2000) Xg/Yg/Zg in parsecs, and Absolute Magnitude.

Internet Stellar Database

For a comprehensive look at the nearer stars, you cannot beat the incredible Internet Stellar Database. This site will allow you to look up all manner of star data, with explainations. And the 3-D co-ordinates are already calculated for you!

Encyclopedia of Suns

The Armchair Astrometrist has a great list of Encyclopedia of Suns gleamed from the Hipparcos data.

Research Consortium on Nearby Stars

Here is an up-to-date list of the 100 nearest stars, courtesy of the Research Consortium on Nearby Stars.

Bright Star Catalog

Here is a list of the Fifty Nearest stars and a list of the Fifty Brightest stars compiled by CosmoBrain.

Gliese Catalogue of Nearby Stars

Decompressing PKZip Files

Users of Windows Vista (and later) and Mac OS X v10.3 (and later) can use their operating system's built-in archive utility.

Info-Zip is free and available on a wide-range of operating systems, including MS-DOS, Windows, Mac, and Amiga.

The GNU project offers gzip (GNU zip) which is also available for multiple operating systems.

If those don't do it, there are many more options available.

Warning for IBM users: PKZip 3.00G is a Trojan Horse program that will destroy your hard drive!

The Gliese Near Star catalog is the standard reference work for budding young starmap makers. It contains all known stars within 25 parsecs (81.5 light years). Version 2.0 was compiled in 1969, while version 3.0 was done in 1991. Naturally 3.0 has more stars, about half again as much.

Here is version 2.0 (about 96K) and version 3.0 (about 244K). These are PKZip compressed format files, and contain both the data and the docs.

Otherwise, the Gliese near star catalog 3.0 is available as a Gnu Zip (i.e., Gzip) file from the Strasbourg Astronomical Data Center. Decompress with one of the Gzip programs mentioned to the right, or WinZip. Be sure to also get the documentation, as it explains what data is in what column. Just to make things annoying, that changed from version 2 to version 3.

Tero Niemi has a pre-processed datafile of the Gliese catalog here. It will save you a lot of effort.

Technical Note

Terry Kepner pointed out that one cannot accept all the Gliese data without question, specifically the parallaxes . It states quite clearly in the documentation that some of the parallaxes are based on photometric readings, not on triangulation. Some stars are included even though they are known to be farther away than the photometric readings would indicate. And other stars are not listed even though they are known to be closer than their photometric readings.

Mr. Kepner says as a rule of thumb all measurements in astronomy are good only to the first two decimal places with distances under about 100 light years, and every measurement is plus or minus 50% with distances above 100 light years.

Mr. Kepner goes on to state that the French are running a massive collection of data regarding distances from a satellite (Hipparcos) that has been gathering data on 100,000 stars over the last ten years. They expect to have the most accurate distance database ever in another year or so. Being based on a satellite, without the Earth's atmosphere to interfere with delicate instruments, the data is already much better than anything measured from the ground. Sadly, the survey is limited to stars brighter than 12th magnitude, so many nearby red dwarfs will be missed.

Note on Star Names

The Gliese data uses standard astronomical abbreviations: "ZET TUC" means Zeta Tucanae. Here is a list of the abbreviations so that you may translate. An entry from the DM catalog, such as "DM-24 263" should have a "degree" symbol in the space between the 4 and the 2 ( i.e., DM-24°263 ).


The Hipparcos satellite operated from 1989 to 1993 and its data was used to produce the Hipparcos Catalogue. The entire catalogue may be downloaded from the Strasbourg Astronomical Data Center website. Warning: it's over 50 MB (or 14MB gzip'ed). Thanks to Aaron Digulla for this info.

If you don't feel like downloading the entire thing, you can get a user-defined subset of the Hipparcos data customized to your very own specifications. Go here then hit the "Continue with selected catalog" button. Thanks to Joel H. Crook for this info.

When the catalogue was first released, it could be bought for about $100 on 6 CD-ROMs.

Yale Bright Star Catalogue

The Yale Bright Star catalog is a good source for stars that have actual names (i.e., "Polaris" instead of BD+50°1725). Do keep in mind that any star in this catalog is highly unlikely to possess human habitable planets. However, they are useful for naming star sectors, quadrants, or whatever. Here is the catalog, in Gnu Zip format. Use one of the Gzip programs above or WinZip. Here is the documentation.

For individual stars, you can look them up in the Bright Star Catalog.


NStars was a queryable near star database setup by NASA available online. Unfortunately, the website's search feature is offline for a "major redesign".

The NStar database may be downloaded from the Near Star Catalogue, an amateur and unofficial update to NStars.


If you want to go digging yourself in on-line FTP sites of astronomical catalogs, check out NASA's VizieR archives site hosted by the Strasbourg Astronomical Data Center, and the U.S. Navy's U.S. Naval Observatory site.

Why Stop at Stars?

Of course, you can also make maps with the locations of nebulas, globular clusters, galaxies, quasars, or any other celestial object you can obtain the co-ordinates of. You will be doing basically the same thing that the astronomers did when they discovered the intergalactic "Great Wall". It will also spice up your starmap if you include such items as the Orion Nebula and the Coalsack. Unfortunately, most of the interesting nebulas are thousands of light years distant, so they are not within the 25 parsec limit of the Gliese data.

Stars with Planets

Recently, extrasolar planets were discovered. Try converting these into x,y,z co-ords:

  • 70 Virginis: RA 13h28.4m, DECL +13.8°, Dist 78 light years.
  • 47 Ursae Majoris: RA 10h59.5m, DECL +40.4°, Dist 46 light years.
  • 51 Pegasi: RA 22h57m, DECL +20°46', Dist 42 light years.

For more info, check out the Extrasolar Planet Catalog. Klaus Richter has a nice Extrasolar planet site here, but it is in German.

Night Sky from Other Stars

Want to know what the night sky would look like from 47 Ursae Majoris? Click here!