Posts Tagged ‘Mac and PC astronomy software’

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

A new update for Starry Night Pro and Starry Night Pro Plus is available today. Use the ‘Help/Check for Updates’ menu option to download and install the update. I updated Starry Night Pro Plus and did not see any glitches during the update nor after restarting SNPP.

I emailed Starry Night Support for a list of fixes in this update and they responded:

“There was only one bug fixed between 6.4.2 and 6.4.3, but it was deemed critical for several of our education customers.”

  • Planet shadow cones drawing errors were fixed.

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1/30/2011
Recently I’ve read that some Starry Night users discussing the ‘LiveSky/Show Photographic Image…’ menu option. This option is ghosted (not available) unless you zoom in on a deep space object. Below is a screen shot I took in Starry Night Pro Plus – I was checking out Saturn and noticed M16 (I typically spec the Messier object labels on), so I went there and zoomed in and the included photo (very nice detail) was displayed:

Very cool. I’ve also seen posts where there were questions about the inclusion of the SDSS in SNP. I asked Starry Night’s Support and this is what they said:

“We have not yet included support for the SDSS III (Sloan Digitized Sky Survey 3) because after doing some testing, we found that their download service was not yet reliable enough for us to consider adding it as a feature into SN.”

Good news, and hopefully the download service will improve soon.

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1/31/2011

For a bit of space-related humor (Mars rover attitude issues), check this out.

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2/16/2011

Tips regarding using Celestron telescopes and SNP 6.4 from Bob, who had this issue:

Problem: Go to the configure screen, selected Celestron, then tried to go to properties and all he saw was a message, “Failed To Load Driver : Cannot create ActiveX component”. He has a CG-5 which connects just fine to The Sky (using the same computer and cables).

Brenda from Starry Night solved the problem for Bob:
“Make sure you have the latest version of the ASCOM telescope driver platform and Celestron drivers. You can get them here:
http://www.ascom-standards.org

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2/18/2011

Tip to address an unusual SNP bug known to affect Mac OSX users, courtesy of Kevin Schultz from StarryNight@yahoogroups.com. Kevin recommended this approach to Konstantin, who confirmed it addressed the problem.

Problem: To address an unusual bug in SNP (know to affect Mac OSX users): When updating from inside the SNP program, the Program does not require the administrative rights in order to update the program in the Application folder. SNP tries to download the installer and notices that it can install and then gives you the message you see which is actually not happening!!

To update, try this first.

  1. Start SNP
  2. Check for Updates
  3. Choose just download
  4. Wait for the download to complete (that downloading is in progress in upper right corner of the window)
  5. Quit SNP
  6. Open the SNP folder in the Applications folder(Program) !
  7. Open the folder Standalone updaters
  8. Double-Click on the latest Updater

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2/22/2011

The azimuth in the HUD is read in hours, not degrees. How is that changed? Per Stan Glaser from StarryNight@yahoogroups.com:

Preferences > Number Formats > Azimuth (hh or ddd° in one of the variations presented)

– Mike

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Starry Night version 6.4.2 is available as of today. I downloaded and installed it for Starry Night Pro Plus and had no errors during or after the update.

Per an email I received from Starry Night Support on 1/19/2011, this update has the following bug fixes:

  • Crash when printing on OS X.
  • Graph View problems (OpenGL Init problem. OS X.)
  • Calculation of Delta-T for years -500 to 500 was incorrect.
  • FOV indicators now update/draw in the sky if time flow is off.
  • Image Editor “Background Reduction” slider added. Fixes background reduction not working.
  • Constellation Stick Figures not drawing correctly in 3D space when a single constellation is selected.
  • Removed confusing application update message on startup when no data updates requested.

Click here to see our information on the next release (6.4.3) of Starry Night.

On a separate note, I really enjoy reading the Starry Night Times, which is their monthly newsletter. Click here to subscribe to it.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

This post contains information about Starry Night version 6.4.1. Click here to read our post on release version 6.4.2, which was available for downloading the morning of January 18, 2011.

Version 6.4.0 to 6.4.1 Update

January 12, 2011

I contacted Starry Night Support for a list of specific fixes/enhancements for versions 6.4.0 and 6.4.1, and they sent me this information on 12/28/2010. The support center informed me that users experiencing problems starting Starry Night after updating can manually delete their preferences file, which should allow them to start the software. They also believe they found the source of the 6.4.1 bug and intend fix it in the next update.

December 25, 2010

I fired up Starry Night Pro to write a quick post about Uranus this morning and saw there was a new version available: 6.4.1. I installed the update (previously at version 6.3.9) and used it immediately. No errors during installation, although I had to manually restart Starry Night after the update completed.

New features from version 6.4.0 to 6.4.1:

  • address some issues that arose with some OS X users and our new usage of OpenGL.

Note: Everything looks much the same in version 6.4.1 as in version 6.3.9, but I did have one problem. While going through the program features, Starry Night did unexpectedly terminate – can’t recall exactly what I was doing, but it gave an OpenGL error message before quitting.

Note 2: I believe the added Apollo missions (only available for the Pro and Pro Plus versions of Starry Night) were part of the Starry Night Apollo application, which is still listed (12-27-2010) as a free-standing product in the Starry Night store.

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Version 6.3.9 to 6.4.0 Update

December 25, 2010

New features from version 6.3.9 to 6.4.0:

  • A number of bug fixes, performance improvements, under the hood stuff.
  • Advanced Particle Galaxy Rendering
  • Hour Angle Lines
  • SkyView Link (Image Editor)
  • Argo Navis Support (OS X)
  • Up to 14 new panoramas (Pro Plus gets 14, Pro 9, enthusiast 5)
  • Minor updates to some db’s like meteor showers

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Preferences Files Locations

March 29, 2011

The preference file problem for Starry Night Pro users running Windows 7 has been repeatedly addressed since January, however Mr Bill of the Yahoo SN forum recently responded why a good solution to fix this issue is to use the Run as Admin solution:

“W7 defaults to running everything in NON-ADMIN mode even if you are the admin. All that is needed – if you are the administrator, which most people who have a single login are, is to right clk the file you want to run and select COMPATIBILITY then select RUN THIS PROGRAM AS ADMINISTRATOR. If it is an older version on SNP also select RUN THIS PROGRAM IN COMPATIBILITY MODE and set it for XP SP3 or whatever runs.”

Thank you for the clear details why this approach is needed, Mr. Bill.

January 17, 2011

If I ran Vista, I’d probably look for a .txt file in the “C:\Program Files\Starry Night <version>\” directory.

The support center informed me that the Preferences file locations for Windows are in different locations, depending on the version of Windows. They prefer that people needing help with the SN Preferences files for Windows contact them at www.starrynightsupport.com.

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January 7, 2011

I’ve received a couple of questions about the Preferences file location for Starry Night Pro and Pro Plus. I contacted their support center and this was their reply:

The Mac OSX Preferences are located at:

/Users/<Your Username>/Library/Preferences/Imaginova Canada/Prefs/

The “User State Prefs.txt” file is located in either the Pro or “Pro Plus” folder depending on which version you have.

IMPORTANT! If you can’t find the Prefs file, remember there are 3 potential Library directories:

  • ~/Library – for a specific user
  • /Library – for all users of the computer
  • /System/Library – for system-wide use

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Historical Data on All Version 6.x New Features:

December 25, 2010

All of the newest features in Starry Night version 6.x are:

  • Hour Angle Lines and Vernal Equinox Hour Angle Guide.
  • SkyView Link in Image Editor Downloads Thousands of New Images.
  • Advanced Particle Galaxy Rendering.
  • New minor planets and their moons have been added and updated.
  • Apollo Space Missions: trajectories of the Apollo spacecraft, full models and guided tours.
  • Distance Spheres can now be added to any solar system body with any radius and color.
  • Shadow Cones can be displayed to show the shadows of orbiting bodies.
  • The precessional path of the celestial poles can now be displayed.
  • The circumpolar region, based on your latitude, can now be displayed.
  • Event Finder: Appulse event searching alerts you when the Moon or the Pleiades is near bright planets.
  • Added up to 24 new horizon panoramas.
  • New update technology built directly into Starry Night. Will check for updates automatically if registered.
  • Animated trips between planets now use more visually appealing planet avoidance.
  • Tully database improved to allow for more galaxy types.
  • Saturn’s rings and ring shadows now draw even more precisely.
  • Universal Time can now be displayed and edited in the toolbar.
  • The value of DeltaT has been improved and can now be overridden by the user.
  • All planets now draw with softer edges.
  • Updated LiveSky links and images.
  • Thicker lines on high-DPI displays maintain visibility.
  • More Customer Support Features
  • Spaceship responsiveness dramatically improved.
  • Improved Space Mission rendering speeds.
  • Improved Find feature for multiple objects of same name.
  • Updated mythological descriptions for all 88 classical constellations

OS-specific improvements:

  • Argo Navis support for Mac OS X.
  • Smooth window fading (Win XP and Vista)
  • Transparent floating windows (Vista only)

By Ted Bade, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Vendor: United Soft Media Verlag GmbH
Price: $11.99
E-Mail: info@usm.de
Product Site: http://www.redshift-live.com/en/

Introduction

RedShift is an astronomy application for the iPod touch/iPhone/iPad. This program offers the features you would expect from an astronomy title and has a couple of useful unique options. It also makes use of the device’s built-in compass to act as an information window to the sky.

This is the second Astronomy app for portable devices that I have reviewed here. So I am going to make references to my previous review of Distant Suns for comparison reasons. Redshift has all of the basics. You tell it where you are located and it will show you the sky, adding labels to identify the objects. You can increase or decrease the Field Of View (FOV), using a gesture. Tapping on a star or other object will provide more information about it. The program includes a huge database of objects, but is more designed for naked eye viewing of the sky then as an assistant for telescope viewing.

Getting Started

When you first start Redshift, it loads and then plays a neat animation of your view, moving from a point off the earth and flying down to the location you have set as your home location. Then the sky is filled with stars. When you D-tap on an object seen on the screen, a red hued information bar appears on the top providing links to the program’s built in database of information, a link to the Wikipedia entry for that object, a rocket icon that lets you take a “flight” to that object, and a lock for locking the object in the window. The Wikipedia link is pretty neat, the Wiki page for the selected object opens in a window over the app screen. Whatever information and pictures the page has can be scrolled to. You can click on the links within the Wiki page, to see even more information. Essentially you are using a very basic web browser within the application. To return to the view of the sky, there is a “back” button. The biggest issue with this feature is that there is no way to navigate back and forth between pages in the simple browser window. The Wiki page offers links to lots of information. When you click on one, it loads the page. But Redshift provides no means of getting back to the previous page. The “back” button only brings one back to the main Redshift window. This makes a potentially terrific educational feature simply a good feature.

Another really cool feature on this information bar is a link to the devices compass feature. If you touch it, arrows on the screen direct you to move the device back and forth and up and down, until you are facing the object! So not only can you look at the simulated sky, but you can use the application to actually find where an object is in the real time sky. Making this a truly terrific way to learn how to identify what is up there. If you don’t select an object, and turn the compass on, Redshift will show the sky you are facing with names and constellations shown – a neat tool.

Side note: I didn’t have a compass device when I did my previous review of Distant Suns. I now have an iPad and can make use of its compass. Distant Suns also makes use of the device’s compass, and I will make an effort to include extra information in the previous review.

There are some options for labeling the sky in Redshift, although not as many as I would like. You can change the star density up and down using a slider, which decreases and increases the magnitude of stars that show as a dot. Another slider increases or decreases the density of labels displayed on the screen.  But this mostly affects stars. Other types of objects are in the database, but Redshift doesn’t provide symbols or labels to show their location unless the field of view is small enough to show the object. If you go to the extreme density of labels, some deep space objects will appear, but the screen is way to cluttered with information to be of use. Which means Redshift isn’t a good choice for locating objects that require a telescope to see.

However, the objects actually there. Some larger objects, like the North America Nebula, can be seen graphically on the screen, and a label for it will appear if the FOV is small enough. I know other objects are represented because, as I was perusing the sky of Redshift, I saw a pixel flicker. I thought there was a defect in the program, so I tried to figure out what was causing it. It turned out to be the crescent nebula. The program was trying to represent the image of the crescent nebula with one pixel, as the angle of view to the object changed, the light of the image changes, so the one pixel representation flickered. When I shrunk the FOV down enough, a very nice image of this nebula appeared then grew. All deep space objects in Redshift are represented by photo-realistic images, which can be see when the FOV is small enough.

Redshift offers basic search features for locating objects that might not be visible, or that you might want to see a better image of. There is a feature called “Observatory” which lets you choose from one of four categories (Solar system, Stars, Constellations, Deep Sky) to search in. Selecting one provides an alphabetical list of well-known objects. Selecting an object first centers the sky on its location then changes the FOV until the object is visible. There is also a magnifying glass icon on the screen that lets you enter a text string to search for an object. You can search in any of the four categories or all of them. A history of your recent searches is kept so you can return to them. The text search is useful, but it is very basic. It browses names rather then looking for keyword matches. For instance, when searching for the Saturn nebula, you enter Saturn, and see two hits, one for the planet and one for the nebula. However, if you are looking for the little dumbbell nebula, enter the keyword dumbbell won’t find it, but entering “Little” will.

The photo-realistic image of the sky is very nice and this makes it easier to compare to the real sky. If you take it out at night and are concerned about night vision, Redshift has a button to instantly enable night vision, giving everything a red hue, which should not reduce your night seeing abilities while still being readable. You can also turn on or off the effects of daylight, giving you the ability to see what is going on in your day sky. A few images are provided to fill in the area below the horizon, which show to occlude the space below the horizon. If the Daylight effect is off, this image is translucent, allowing you to see through it. Markers on the display the altitude and azimuth of the screen center.

To zoom in on a part of the sky, or in more astronomy parlance, to change the FOV, you use the pinch and expand hand gesture. You can also use the rocket ship feature to zoom in on a particular object. It the object is a planet, you can simulate an orbit of it, a very nice effect. Zooming in is a lot of fun, but zooming out, back to the standard FOV using gestures is a bit of work. Luckily, there is an icon on the screen to restore the display. One issue I had with this feature is that it restores both the time and the view. I often find myself considering this evening’s sky at lunch. So I set the application’s time to evening and poke around a bit. When I use this button to return, I have to remember to reset the time to the evening, or I will find myself perusing the daytime sky! I know they can reset the view without resetting the time, because a simulated rocket flight to an object offers a reset which doesn’t reset time, just the view.

Redshift can make access of the devices location services and compass. If you let it, it uses location services to determine your location on earth. Since I am new to the iPad and I have the base model, I am skeptical about the function of its GPS. Luckily, RedShift used a neat model of the earth, showing a dot on the image of the earth representing your home location, as well the Lat/Long. Between the Touch and the Pad, Redshift has me somewhere in the vicinity of where I live, which is a whole lot more accurate then say, choosing the nearest major city, which is many miles away. You can also zoom into the image of the earth, and if you know your relative location, tap on the image to set it.

Conclusion

The only thing that I find lacking in programs like this is real time event information. For instance it won’t tell you the name of that satellite you see flinging across the sky, but more importantly, it can’t be used to help you find that neat comet that is there either. While I realize keeping track of thousands of satellites might be an issue, this program has a lot of power and should be able to at least offer some information about current events, things to see, and interesting conjunctions. There is no need to keep track of events that are not currently happening and all it would require would be to download somer data on a regular basis. That’s my wish for Redshift!

Overall Redshift is a pretty good astronomy application. I like some of the features and the image it shows of the sky is very nice. It is a good choice as an astronomy title for your device. It worked flawlessly for me. You won’t go wrong if you decide to give this a try. Personally, I don’t put this on the top of the list astronomy apps I have tried. Not because there is a problem, it’s my overall experience and preferences. I do like this program and give it a very good rating!

Voyager 4.5.7 Sky Simulator
Carina Software (Phone: 1- (925) 838-0695, Mon – Fri, 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM PST)
Website: www.carinasoft.com
Price: $179.95 w/DVD, $129.95 w/2 CDs, w/CD download $99.95
Upgrade prices and educational discount information available at Carina’s website.

By Ted Bade, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Introduction

Astronomy buffs or anyone looking for a solid astronomy simulation program should take a serious look at the Voyager Dynamic Sky Simulator software package developed by Carina Software. It offers a good user interface, easy to understand controls, along with the ability to control computer driven and certain motorized telescopes. Voyager provides a huge sky catalog, complete with images and a variety of ways to view the skies. It will satisfy just about any amateur astronomer’s needs.

Let me qualify myself on the subject of Astronomy before I begin this review. I am a true amateur, who enjoys employing technology to make observing the sky more fun and informative. I own a decent computer controlled telescope, (6” Newtonian), and I live in southern New England (USA), where light pollution and overcast skys are the norm. It is important to me to own a good sky simulation program, so I can plan for those few nights when the sky is clear and I can actually use my telescope to view the sky. It’s also important that the program can help me learn what my sky would look like if the clouds (and light pollution) weren’t there.

My experience with Astronomy software packages has been using Starry Night Pro and an earlier version of Voyager (3.x). My apologies to those people who have written shareware programs, I have not taken the time to give any of them a serious look, (but I am open to doing that).

I would like to explain what a sky simulation program does, for those of you who might not be familiar with this type of software. We are all familiar with planetariums, an auditorium with a domed ceiling on which is projected a simulation of the sky. Although they are used mostly for entertainment, their real purpose is to allow us to study the motion of stars. Combining what we have observed in our short history with the laws of physics and motion, scientists can predict the motion of the stars, and be able to simulate where they have been and will be at any time. Using this technology, a program can display what the sky looks like from any point on the earth at any time in the future or in history. Obviously, the simulation cannot predict unexpected events and is limited by the mistakes we have made in calculations. But it is pretty accurate and I doubt I will ever observe a mistake in my lifetime.

System Requirements

Voyager runs under Mac OS X or Windows.

Mac Mac OS X

  • Mac OS X 10.4 or higher
  • PowerPC or Intel 1 GHz or faster processor (2 GHz or faster recommended)
  • 700 MB of hard disk space (4.2 GB for DVD version)
  • 512 MB of memory (1 GB recommended)
  • 1024×768 display with 32-bit color
  • CD-ROM drive (for CD version) or DVD-ROM drive (for DVD version)

Windows Windows

  • Windows XP or Vista
  • Pentium 1 GHz or faster processor (2 GHz or faster recommended)
  • 700 MB of hard disk space (4.2 GB for DVD version)
  • 512 MB of memory (1 GB recommended)
  • CD-ROM drive (for CD version) or DVD-ROM drive (for DVD version)
  • 1024×768 display with 32-bit color
  • Adobe Reader or similar software to view on-line User Guide in PDF format

Using the Software

With this software, you can see what you sky will look like tonight, next year, or even a thousands years ago. You can view what the sky would look like from many locations, your back yard or places you might never visit like Australia, the north or south pole, or even the moon! While it is not currently available in this version, I expect in the future advanced features should let you explore the surface of planets and moons that we have data on.

I am not going to try to analyze the validity of the star catalog and other astronomical information provided in Voyager. I am no expert on this subject and I trust that a reputable company like Carina checks the data. The program can check for updates that give the latest information and ephemerides (orbital data) for comets, asteroids, and satellites. It also will check for updates to the application. I am reviewing specifically version 4.5.7, which is the current version as of this review.

Voyager’s main window is the Sky Chart. This is your view of the sky. You can have more then one sky chart open at one time. A reference line near the bottom of the window represents the circle of the horizon around where you “stand”. In the program the line shows the cardinal points (N, NE, E, etc.) and is also marked in degrees, with North being zero. When you click and hold on the screen you can move the view around the horizon or up and down. As you do, the view of the sky changes as if you were moving your head to look at different parts of the sky. Additionally, when you click and hold, small windows pop up displaying the current altitude and azimuth of the center of the screen a great feature to let you know where you are, especially in more zoomed views.

How much of the sky you see on a single screen is controlled by the Zoom window. The default is set to about what a human would see standing outside. You can zoom in or out from this view using the zoom controls. Zoom in far enough and you will see the object as if looking with a powerful telescope, zoom out enough and the view of the sky becomes a bowl.

The star field you see will be what you might see if the sky were perfectly clear and dark. Voyager falls a bit short on simulating light pollution, for those of us who would like to see an image of the sky as we see it. You can choose to show a “Natural Sky” which brightens when the sun is up and darkens as it sets. But there are no controls to simulate the effects of the lights of a nearby city. You can control the minimum brightness of stars to display. If you know your local limitations, this can be used to show only those stars or objects that you could actually see wit ha naked eye.

In the real world, you cannot see below the horizon, so you can chose to fill in the areas below the horizon. Voyager offers different options from just opaquing the area below to using a photo. Since most users don’t live in an area with 360 degrees of unobstructed horizon, the images obstruct a little above the horizon as well. The program comes with a handful of photos to use. My home location includes a lot of trees that block a good portion of the lower sky. I was pleased to find that you can create your own image, if you have the time and patience to do it. Instructions are provided with the program, but I didn’t give it a try.

Voyager does a lot of things, offering many ways to simulate the sky and the objects one can see. There are many very useful tools included in the package. One could easily write volumes about all the things that can be done. For this review, I am going to hi-lite some of the features I found especially useful. If I don’t mention a feature you think is important, check with Carina Software to see if Voyager does that.

Voyager lets you easily turn on and off all types of labels and information related to the sky. A name label can be shown for every object that can be shown on the screen. By default the popular name (if one exists) is shown, and there are plenty of options for selecting a specific list or catalog number. There are a lot of stars and other objects in the sky. If you turned on all the labels, the sky would be covered with the labels. Voyager offers a couple of options for limiting labels. The best one for naked eye observations is to limit labels to those stars of a certain magnitude or greater, which can be adjusted by the user. There is also a very nice option to show spectral colors for stars.

Planets and moons, when observed from earth, might be seen as having phases. You can choose to show the phases or not. What this means is that when looking at the Earth’s moon, the program will display it with the same phase as it currently has. In addition to moons, you can show asteroids, comets, and satellites on your simulated sky. There are options for how these show and how they are labeled.

I found the comet options especially useful. At the time of this writing a comet was passing our night sky (103P Hartley2). The comet had a magnitude of 5.3, which means it might be visible to the naked eye or a good pair of binoculars. On the screen it shows as a typical comet symbol. Using Voyager, I was easily able to locate where to sight my binoculars to see the comet in real time. I was also able to plan the best time to go out for the observation, ensuring the comet was above the trees in the open sky.

There is a lot of stars and other interesting objects in the sky that are not visible to the naked eye. You can tell Voyager to put symbols on the screen showing a symbol for the object at the location and even the name of the deep sky object. This is very useful for creating a list of objects to observe. What I did was set Voyager to the time and date I planned to take my telescope out, and then use the symbols to locate objects in the sky. Knowing the limitations of my telescope and sky, I could then select a variety of objects to try observing.

If you mouse over any star or object, it’s name (if it has one) or star designation appears on the screen. If you left click on it, an information window pops up. The pop up window provides various bits of information about the object depending upon what is available. The information window offers information, images, and some controls. Getting the mouse on the correct point was relatively easy for stars, but a lot more difficult for the symbol of the comet, since the point you have to have the cursor on is significantly smaller then the symbol.

Voyager does a great job of simulating the sky. It offers many images of popular objects. One thing that is especially interesting is the ability to link to another sky chart, allowing you to see a simulation of an event from two different locations at the same time (provided you have enough screen space!).

Conjunctions are very popular viewing events, since they generally can be see without a lot of special equipment. Also, some major historical events occurred along with significant conjunctions. Voyager includes a “Conjunction Search” tool that will search a range of dates for Solar Eclipse, Lunar Eclipse, or Planetary conjunctions. The range of dates you can search includes 498000 BC to 502000 AD. The search creates a list of events indicating what time and date they occur and whether they are visible from the location of the sky chart you currently have opened. Voyager doesn’t provide any information to help if the event isn’t visible from your current location.

Another nice tool is the “Planetary Report”. This tool provides various information pertaining to planets in our solar system and some major moons.  A pull down menu offers many types of information including distance to the object, phases, rise and set times, apparent magnitudes, and more. Some very useful information for the backyard observer. For instance, you can plot a chart showing where the major moons of Jupiter will be, so when you observe, you will know which is which. Along the same lines, there is another tool that plots the orbits of specific man-made satellites from a giant list of choices. After looking at this list, I was amazed at just how much stuff is up there!

Other tools Voyager provides are more scientific in nature, although they can help with observing as well. The Binary Star Orbit tool lets you choose a known binary star system from a huge list. Choosing a system brings up a graph, many of which can be animated to show the secondary orbiting the primary star. This tool offers a number of ways to organize and search for the binary system as well as facts about the stars. You can even center the chosen binary on the main sky chart, to see where it is in the sky.

There is a Star Survey tool, which provides a graph of information concerning the stars in the program’s database. Options are Star count by distance or magnitude, Color magnitude diagram, and Mass-Luminosity. The tool lets one select from all or various sets of stars.

There are three tools to simulate views off the earth. The solar system gives a view of the solar system from 1 to 200 AU (Astronomical Units *1) out.  The Solar neighborhood chart that simulates a view with our sun at the center, showing the universe from 20 to 4000 ly (light years *2), and a Redshift Distribution Chart. All these charts are interactive and simulate a 3D view. You can use sliders to change the orientation of the chart. The first one also lets you see the orbital motion in large time increments. Each of these charts provides a bunch of information related to the topic. A lot of fun and a great tool to use to learn about the stars.

*1 – An Astronomical Unit equals the average distance between the Earth and the Sun, which is approximately 150,000,000 kilometers (93,000,000 miles). Mercury is 1/3 AU from the Sun, while Pluto is 40 AUs from the Sun. AUs are typically used for measurement within the solar system, and light years are used to measure distance between the Sun and objects outside the solar system. – Ed.

*2 – A light year is the distance that light travels in 1 year, which is 9,500,000,000,000 kilometers. – Ed

Voyager and Telescopes

Voyager 4.5 can control a variety of telescopes with computer controls. There is a large list of options, including controlling a telescope that has just drive motors and no computer. I found connecting to my Meade LXD75 to be very easy. All options to set up the program for working with a telescope are in the “Telescope” menu. To turn on the controls, you first need to know and set up the specifics for your type of telescope. This includes the type of telescope you are using, (there are over 30 options for many popular manufacturers), the correct communication port, Baud rate, and telescope mount type. Choosing the telescope type doesn’t automatically select the standard mount type. For instance, my LXD75 comes standard with a German Equatorial mount, byt Voyager defaults to equatorial fork. Which means you need to consider all the choices before making the connection.

Since this is a real time connection, you cannot do much with it until you have hardware connected. For instance, I use a serial to USB interface to make the connection. This option doesn’t show up until the interface is actually connected between the telescope computer and the MacBook. However, you do see other communication ports that the MacBook has. Align your telescope if necessary before making the connection to Voyager.

Once the connection has been made a telescope window pops up, showing some information about the connection. The view of the sky also changes to align with the orientation of you telescope. Since the program has no way to know what eyepiece you currently have in the telescope, the field of view remains where every it was. I like keeping the zoom level the same as normal eyesight. This way, I can look at the screen, and then at the same area of the sky, to make sure there isn’t an obstruction before slewing the telescope to that location.

Assuming your telescope is properly aligned, you can select anything you can find in the Voyager program and slew your telescope to that object. The alignment process for lower end scopes (like mine), isn’t an exact or easy process. Even with a very good alignment, the scope is off by a little bit. But a little bit is a lot when you consider the effect a small error has when trying to find something thousands of light years distant! After the scope has moved to where it thinks an object should be, one normally fine tunes the position to center it in the viewfinder. Once it is centered, there is an option in Voyager that lets you feed back to Voyager that this is where the object really is. By doing this with several objects, one hopes that this improves the alignment of the scopes computer making it easier to find objects as the night goes on.

There is an option to turn on “night vision” when connected to the telescope. This feature dims the screen and gives it a red hue. Doing this is similar to using a red flashlight, you can see it, but it doesn’t reduce your night vision ability. This effect extends to other applications you might have running, in case you switch to them. I will often listen to internet radio when I am out with my telescope and sometimes will have a need to check something on the internet. By affecting all applications, this means that switching to another App doesn’t kill your night vision.

By default, the Voyager screen is locked to the view of the telescope. This can easily be switched off, allowing you to scan the skies as shown by Voyager, for an object to visit. Once an object is located, select to move the telescope to it. Pretty easy.

If you are organized and plan your night session, Voyager offers an observing list. Before your nightly session use Voyager to plan what objects in the sky you intent to observe. Add the ones of interest to the observing list. When the telescope is attached to Voyager, there is an option to “Go To” the object on the list. The observation list provides other options as well. You can jump to the objects information screen, show the object on the sky chart (a flashing circle appears around I for a few seconds), or move the telescope to it.

Issues

The only issue I had with Voyager’s interface was that the telescope command is at the bottom of the standard object right click menu. It is a long list, and for most objects many of the standard choices on this menu are grayed out (not functional). It’s a minor issue, but still inconvenient! This leads to another complaint: this menu isn’t contextual, so the same menu is shown for every object, whether any of the options are valid or not and there are many that apply to only planets. While non-valid options are grayed out, they still take up menu space.

Conclusion

There is a lot more that one can do with this program. As I mentioned, I discussed only a few of the items I found most useful. Voyager is a true encyclopedia of the sky, with many options for accessing and viewing the data it contains. One could easily spend hours just perusing the skies Voyager simulates, looking for interesting objects, learning about them as well as looking at some very nice images. It’s a terrific program.

This version of the Voyager Sky Simulation program is a great tool for learning about the skies above us and a useful tool to help people interested in astronomy and observing the sky with both the naked and enhanced eyes. I am not sure I could easily choose a favorite between Voyager and the other commercial applications I have tried. All the information is available in these programs, but the methods that the information is made available or accessed is different. I have been using Starry Night Pro plus as my telescope assistant tool for a number of years. As I tested Voyager, at first I was put off by these differences, but as I continued using it, I realized that some of the differences actually make sense as well as streamlining the process. I doubt I will be able to make a final choice until I have used Voyager for a lot longer time.

Recommendation

If you are considering buying a sky simulation program that provides many tools to help with your observations of the night sky, you should definitely consider Voyager. Price-wise it is competitive. Choices include a DVD version (with a lot more star/object information) for $180, a two CD version with less information but all the important stuff for $130, and an option to download the CD version for $100. The boxed versions come with a printed manual (a nice feature these days). I highly recommend giving this program a close examination; it will be worth your time.

by Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Have you tried any of the excellent astronomy packages on your home computer? One of my favorites is Starry Night, by Imaginova. I originally installed Starry Night Pro 6 on my iMac and reviewed it for MacWorld UK, and recently installed it on my 2.26 GHz Macbook. I had received the 6.0 release, so I downloaded and installed the 6.0 to 6.3.3 and the 6.3.3 to 6.3.9 updates, which took much less time to install than they did to download.

One of the nicest thing about Starry Night is the ability to create and save movies, which I’ve done for some of our space missions like the New Horizons mission to Pluto. To see the mission, click on this link to NASA’s video.

I’m hoping to have more reviews of Starry Nights products on our site in the future, as using astronomy software on your local PC beats standing outside in subzero weather, trying not to freeze as you peer through a telescope lens.

Let us know if you use Starry Night or any of the other excellent astronomy packages out there, and why you like or dislike them.

6.3.3 Updates

Enhancements

  • New minor planets and their moons have been added and updated.
  • Distance Spheres can now be added to any solar system body with any radius and color. (All programs except C.S.A.P.)
  • Shadow Cones can be displayed to show the shadows of orbiting bodies.
  • New update technology built directly into Starry Night. Will check for updates automatically if registered.
  • Animated trips between planets now use more visually appealing planet avoidance.
  • Tully galaxy rendering now implemented as particle systems.
  • Tully database improved to allow for more galaxy types.
  • Saturn’s rings and ring shadows now draw even more precisely, and look much better.
  • Universal Time can now be displayed and edited in the toolbar. (Pro, Pro Plus, Astrophoto Suite only.)
  • The precessional path of the celestial poles can now be displayed.
  • The circumpolar region, based on your latitude, can now be displayed.
  • The value of DeltaT has been improved and can now be overridden by the user. (Pro, Pro Plus, Astrophoto Suite only.)
  • All planets now draw with softer edges.
  • Updated LiveSky links and images.
  • Some lines now draw thicker on high-DPI displays to maintain visibility.
  • Added more features that can help Customer Support track down issues.
  • Spaceship responsiveness dramatically improved.
  • Various space mission data sets have been broken into smaller, logical segments to improve rendering speed.
  • Added 5 new horizon panoramas.
  • Improved Find feature for multiple objects of same name.

Bug Fixes

  • Exported data of the sky view now contains a header row.
  • Galaxy types in several databases have been fixed.
  • Horizon drawing improved when looking at the nadir.
  • Spaceship speed controls now work when Starry Night time is stopped.
  • Telescope name now indicated in Windows 3-pane print settings dialog.
  • SkyCal. Adding event times between 12am and 1am now save properly.
  • Pluto now correctly classified as a Dwarf Planet in the orbit editor.
  • Satellite eccentricities now correctly imported from source file.
  • Moons can now be added to dwarf planets.
  • Adding/editing planet surface images or 3DS model assignments now works.
  • User-specified images are now correctly rendered on moons.
  • One-pane printing FOV fixed.
  • Print legend now shows correct size on all Windows machines.
  • Cardinal points can now be controlled independently of horizon using horizon layer labels.
  • Increased delay in Find search box autosearch.
  • Observing list filters fixed.
  • Comets are now correctly indicated on printed output.
  • Observing lists can now display the objects constellation.
  • Coordinates now export in the format selected in the preferences.
  • Peak times for Meteor Showers are now listed.
  • Ambient sound has been restored.