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    MS Flight Simulator and a nova in Corona Borealis
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2021 Oct 2, 21:07 -0700

    Recently I bought a more powerful laptop, at a discounted price. It qualifies as a "gaming laptop" so yesterday I decided to install the new Microsoft Flight Simulator that we discussed last summer (and a few other times). Overnight it downloaded 100+ GB of data, and after verifying that it had basic functionality, I hit a store this afternoon and bought myself an intro level controller to interact properly with the simulation --that is, to "play the game". The simulation works well. It's not quite as clever as promised, and it has huge hardware and storage demands. But it's fun. The exploration is entertaining. And, though I am not a licensed pilot, it seems to have good flight dynamics. 

    Tonight I started looking at the stars casually as I was flying my Airbus around southern New England after dark. There are no planets, which is unfortunate and honestly quite surprising. This should be easy to get close enough for a basic visual simulation. Navigation-level accuracy can come later but skipping planets just seems lazy. I was also surprised to discover an extra star. Just scanning around the evening sky for tonight, I noticed something funny near Corona Borealis. And yes, these things do jump out for me. This constellation includes, Alphecca, one of the minor navigation stars in the set of the Nautical Almanac's official 57. But what's this?? There's another star about as bright as Alphecca that breaks the crown's simple symmetry.

    Is it a bird, a plane, a satellite? No! It's T Coronae Borealis! Apparently whoever built the star database that is used by MS Flight Simulator included certain variable stars based on the maximum brightness. So Mira (omicron Ceti) is displayed as a bright star. Since this latter star reaches maximum brightness every eleven months, that's not unreasonable. But T CrB is classified as a recurrent nova that is normally very faint. Yes, it may well blow its top any day now, but it's only been known to be bright enough to be seen without a telescope for a couple of weeks on two occasions in the past 200 years! Including this star as a bright star in MS Flight Simulator is simply a mistake. It's a minor mistake, hardly worth noticing by itself, but it tells us something about the production of the astronomical data in this product. They're doing it themselves, "rolling their own", and that means there will probably be other flaws, too.

    Frank Reed
    Clockwork Mapping / ReedNavigation.com
    Conanicut Island USA

       
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