Release Notes – 2.0 Pallas


Distro Astro 2.0 is released, codenamed Pallas. This release of Distro Astro focuses on software used by professional astronomers.

Astronomy software can be classified into roughly two broad categories: those for amateur astronomers and professional astronomers. While the best amateur astronomy software are currently written for Microsoft Windows, the reverse is true for professional software which are mostly written for Unix/Linux.

While Distro Astro aims to provide the best experience for both professional and amateur astronomers, it will take us longer to reach this goal for amateur astronomers.

It therefore makes sense for us in 2.0 Pallas to focus on improving the distribution for professional use, and to focus on amateur astronomy in 3.0 Juno. This will also give needed software more time to mature.

For a detailed list of what’s new, see the Full Change Log.

Download It Now

Distro Astro 2.0 Pallas is available for download as a LiveDVD ISO. This is exactly the same ISO file distributed on November 20, 2013 at the SEAYAC conference in Bandung, Indonesia.

If you wish to download now, you may proceed to the Download Section and follow the instructions given in that page.

Features of Pallas

The following are the features in Distro Astro 2.0 Pallas:

  1. Updated Kernel from 3.2.0 to 3.8.0We know it’s not the latest kernel, but we have tested this for stability and compatibility with the astronomy software we provide. Linux 3.8.0 is the same kernel available in Ubuntu Raring Ringtail and Linux Mint 15 Olivia.

    The kernel update is provided via the Ubuntu LTS Hardware Enablement Stack (HES). Being based on Ubuntu LTS repositories (currently Precise), Distro Astro uses the HES to provide kernel updates.

  2. Ability to Dual Boot with Windows 8.Distro Astro 1.0.2 cannot dual boot with Windows 8. It can be installed by enabling Legacy Boot on Windows 8 machines, but you will have to wipe out Windows 8.

    Distro Astro 2.0 now allows you to dual boot between Distro Astro and Windows 8. You still need to enable Legacy Boot, and then install it the way you would normally dual-boot Linux and Windows: either by partitioning it beforehand or using the Ubiquity installer to set up partitioning.

  3. Support for Touch-Screen MonitorsWell, this isn’t a big deal for most astronomers like us, but it’s nice to know that the newer X.Org drivers that comes with Pallas now supports touch screen. After all, it may be the input device of the future.

    Although the older Distro Astro 1.0.2 Ceres didn’t support touch screen, you can always plug in a mouse.

  4. Our very own APT repository!Ok, this isn’t entirely new. Prerelease versions of Distro Astro (versions 0.1 to 0.8) had an APT repository in The repository stopped being functional when we moved to the domain. Thus it was removed in 1.0 Ceres to prevent error messages during apt-get.

    Our new APT repository is located in It is now included and enabled by default in the /etc/sources.list file of 2.0 Pallas.

    APT stands for Advance Packaging Tool and is the software management tool used in Debian-based systems.

  5. Automatic Upgrades of Astronomy SoftwareRelated to the addition of an APT repository are the automatic upgrades. Ubuntu repositories do not normally provide upgrades to new versions, only updates within the same version. Thus, you are stuck with e.g. Stellarium 0.11.0 throughout the LTS cycle.

    The developers of Distro Astro have decided to provide upgraded versions of included software in the Distro Astro repositories. Packages not found in Ubuntu repositories, e.g., XEphem, are maintained in the Distro Astro repositories.

    We plan to keep astronomy software in our repositories upgraded to the latest stable versions, backported to the latest Ubuntu LTS libraries.

    However, to do this successfully we need volunteers to maintain debian packages in our repositories, checking for new stable versions and building compatible packages for each new upstream release.

  6. Focus on Professional Astronomy UseDistro Astro 2.0 Pallas has improved compatibility with software used by professional astronomy, e.g., IRAF now has FITS set as default image type and CASA can now be more easily installed.

    Our developers recognize that many astronomers are moving to Python as a preferred programming language, and 2.0 Pallas reflects this trend. The preinstalled Python Astropack includes PyRAF, AstroPy, PyFITS, PyWCS, VOTable, NOVAS, and astrolib.coords. In addition, the repositories also contain SciPy, CosmoloPy, APLPy, PyEphem, and NASA’s OSCAAR software that are installable via apt-get.

    Also recognizing the vast amount of legacy FORTRAN software for astronomy, our repositories contain both GFortran and G95 to allow you to run almost all of them. GFortran is installed by default while G95 is available via apt-get.

  7. Upgrade Ceres to PallasIf you currently have Ceres installed and wish to upgrade to Pallas, we have written an upgrade script. Just download it and run it.

    Warning: the upgrade will take several hours. You will need a consistent Internet connection. Do not interrupt the upgrade or you may end up with a broken system.

  8. Still an LTS release.This may not be a feature for some who are looking for an updated repository base, but we did this on purpose. Despite the upgrade in kernel and graphics stack, we have kept compatibility with the current Long-Term Support (LTS) repository, currently Precise. This means that Pallas will continue to be supported until 2017. If we switched to a Quantal, Raring or Saucy base we would be facing end of life in no time.

    If you are currently happy with 1.0.2, there is no need to upgrade. We are still using the same Ubuntu base as Ceres.

What did NOT make it?

The following features were planned but did not make it into 2.0 Pallas:

  1. Upgrade to Mate 1.6Distro Astro uses the MATE Desktop Environment. Currently we are using Mate 1.4. However, changes to the way settings are saved prevented us to upgrade to Mate 1.6 for this release. We need time porting Distro Astro settings from mateconf to gsettings.
  2. Support for CompizSome users of Distro Astro prerelease versions 0.1 to 0.4 (based on Natty Narwhal and Gnome 2) were running compiz. The upgrade to 1.0 Ceres disabled compiz. The reason is the switch from Gnome 2 to Mate. Compiz doesn’t work with Mate 1.4. There were indications that it can be made to work in Mate 1.6, but our efforts went to naught when it became clear the Mate 1.6 would not make it into Pallas.
  3. EkosEkos is a complete astrophotography stack by Jasem Mutlaq. We tried to backport it into Precise but failed. Since Ekos is now in Raring and Saucy, users who need it are recommended to use the latest Ubuntu or Mint releases. For a bleeding edge version of Ekos you may use the Ekos VM released by its author.

    When Distro Astro switches to a new Ubuntu 14.04 LTS base in 3.0 Juno, Ekos will be included.

In the works

The following tasks are currently ongoing:

  1. Apps from Nick Howes’s VMNick Howes’s Astronomy Virtual Machine is a great application of Distro Astro. It contains a lot more additional software useful to students of astronomy. We are currently working to merge the applications found in his VM into Distro Astro’s official repository. Richie Jarvis is helping with this project.
  2. Building our RepositoryThere are plenty of great open source astronomy software that are not found in Ubuntu repositories. Source code repositories like Sourceforge and Github have lots of good astronomy apps. We want to create Debian packages for them and add them to the new Distro Astro repositories.

    Considering this is a huge task we need volunteers to do it. Contact us if you are interested, and tell us which application you are volunteering to package.

    In particular, we are looking for people highly familiar with Debian packaging who are willing to create binary and source packages for IRAF, CASA, CIAO, ESO’s SciSoft Collection, and NASA’s FTOOLS.

    We are also looking for developers who can port Windows software to Linux, such as NAOJ’s Mitaka planetarium program released under an MIT license.

  3. New ArtworkWe are also improving our artwork in time for the release of 3.0 Juno. If you wish to contribute wallpapers, screensavers, icons, or suggest redesigns of our logo or website, feel free to get in touch with us.

Pallas is a great release, and we hope you enjoy using it! We also know that Distro Astro is still largely a work in progress. Please be patient with us. Better yet, join our team!

There is a lot of activity going on in Distro Astro today. Feel free to contact us, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us on Google Plus, or simply Email Us.