Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Truer Bluer Planet

Sometimes a simple add-on can make a big difference in Orbiter. Case in point: "More Realistic Earth Atmosphere" by "Axel" (available at Orbit Hangar). By experimenting with different settings in Orbiter's Earth.cfg file (the file that defines most of Earth's physical properties) and comparing the results to astronaut photos of the Earth, he found atmosphere settings that make a subtle but real-seeming improvement in the look of the Earth from orbit. Others have done similar things, sometimes even providing a new texture rendering file for the horizon of planets with atmospheres, but this could sometimes give Venus, Mars, or Titan an unexpected bluish glow (they apparently all use the same horizon texture). This one keeps it simple but it looks great.

You do need to use a text editor to modify the contents of Earth.cfg, which is found in the /Config folder of your Orbiter installation directory. You simply copy two labeled blocks of text found in the file "earth-atmo-dates.txt" (inside the add-on zip file) and paste them over the corresponding text blocks in the original Earth.cfg file (save a backup copy first if you like). The top picture is the enhanced, the lower picture the default.

Tip: It's possible to have more than one config file for Earth - some add-ons define their own. For example, the shuttle fleet installs Earth_Alt.cfg and Sol_Alt.cfg which define a modified Earth and solar system which are referenced in shuttle scenarios. I missed this at first, ran a shuttle scenario, and could not see any change in the Earth since I changed only the default Earth.cfg file.

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