27 December 2009

Deep-Sky Planner 5 Preview: Star Charting

The star charting feature has been enhanced to include new features and inter-operation with a new planetarium program: Cartes du Ciel 3. Support for Redshift 6/7, Starry Night 5+, TheSky6 and Cartes du Ciel 2.76 has been continued. When Software Bisque releases TheSkyX Pro for Windows, adding support for TheSkyX in Deep-Sky Planner 5 will become a very high priority.

The Show Chart command that is accessed by right-clicking on any celestial object in any report allows you to send a 'Center On' request to any supported planetarium program. With Deep-Sky Planner 5, this request can include a change in the field of view displayed by the planeterium program when it centers on an object. Most of the planetarium programs supported by Deep-Sky Planner 5 also support this feature.

There are several options that determine how the field of view is changed. First, you might select a fixed field of view. This is convenient for matching a finderscope field of view or just personal preference. If you are used to a printed atlas that presents the sky in a certain size, this option can accomplish this.

Another option allows you to adjust the field of view based on the size of the object you have selected. Most planetarium programs adjust the amount of detail shown as the field of view changes. If you select a small object in Deep-Sky Planner 5, the planetarium program may need to show a very small field of view to display the object at all. You might also like to see the surrounding context of an object, so you could choose a scaling factor that changes the field of view to a multiple of the object size.

The final option permits you to adjust the field of view based on the equipment that you are using for viewing or imaging. You can choose a multiplier that is applied to the field of view for the optical system you have selected in the Equipment Bar. Visual observers might use this to starhop to a target or help identify an object in a crowded field. An imaging observer might use this to frame the context of an image.

Another enhancement allows you to minimize Deep-Sky Planner 5 when you select Show Chart if you wish. If your planetarium program is the next program window on the Windows desktop, it is exposed when Deep-Sky Planner is minimized. This option effectively allows you to switch to the planetarium view instantly.

These two enhancements used together can make your favorite planetarium program display a celestial object centered in an intelligently sized field of view with just one click or key press.

15 December 2009

Deep-Sky Planner 5 Preview: Have It Your Way

Some of the most obvious changes in Deep- Sky Planner 5 (DSP5) are enhancements to the user interface. New display capabilities give you more control over what data appears in your reports and how it is displayed. This is a big deal to a lot of users, so DSP5 gives more flexibility than ever before, and the enhancements are compliant with Windows guidelines so that learning to use the product doesn't involve a steep learning curve.

Deep-Sky Planner has long given users the ability to format quantities like date and time to your liking. This capability is still present. DSP5 adds the ability to control which columns of data are displayed and in what order. Data in any column (or columns) can also be sorted in either ascending or descending order. Each of these report configuration options is saved so that once you have a type of report configured just right, it stays that way. The screenshot below shows the column customization dialog used to hide, show and re-order columns.

Even the appearance of reports has gotten a boost. The new stylesheet technology in DSP5 allows you to choose a color and font scheme for reports that suits your needs. Stylesheets are included in backup and restore operations so your stylesheets can be synchronized among computers.

The Observation Browser, as well as all of the equipment and observer browsers, now have the ability to generate reports in a format specified by XML stylesheets (XSLT.) These reports can be viewed and printed. The product ships with default XML stylesheets, but you can create and use your own. The example below shows a report of Cameras using the default XML stylesheet. With knowledge of XSLT, you can eliminate data or change the formatting to suit your needs.

Since these XML stylesheets are simply files, they can be exchanged by users. More on this capability later.

Please stay tuned for the next article in this series. It will discuss enhancements to the sky charting feature.

06 December 2009

Deep-Sky Planner 5 Preview: Backup and Restore

Deep-Sky Planner 5 includes a backup and restore feature to help users with synchronizing installations and with archiving data. A backup occupies one file so it is easy to transfer an entire archive via local network, USB flash drive or similar.

The Problem
Deep-Sky Planner 5 adds many more program customization options to the large number present in previous versions. Synchronizing these options between computers has become more than a trivial task. In addition, version 5 adds many more details to the observing log as discussed in last week's blog post. Entering equipment details consistently on multiple computers is difficult for users with a variety of gear. Finally, archiving and synchronizing your valuable observations is critical. All of these concerns have been addressed by a comprehensive new backup and restore facility.

The Solution
The new backup feature can make a safe offline copy of various program settings, equipment details and observations in a single file. As usual, this feature is customizable by the user - you can backup selected portions of the data, or all of it, to a single archive file as shown below.

The Restore feature can read a backup file and allows you to select any portion of the archived data to restore to another Deep-Sky Planner 5 installation. The screenshot below shows the results of restoring the backup file created above

Keeping your observing log safe and portable has never been easier.

Next week's blog will discuss enhancements to the user interface.

03 December 2009

New Support for Sky Quality Meter with USB

Unihedron released this week a new Sky Quality Meter with a USB port - the SQM-LU. The new connectivity option provides a convenient way for visual and imaging observers to collect darkness readings automatically.

Knightware also released updates for both SQM Reader (free) and SQM Reader Pro (commercial). The updates allow owners of the new USB model the same functionality that has been available to owners of the older Ethernet model - the SQM-LE.

The new version of SQM Reader is available now from the Knightware website. SQM Reader Pro is also available on the website and the update is free to licensed owners.

30 November 2009

Deep-Sky Planner 5 Preview: Logging Features

The new observer's log has occupied a large portion of research and development time for Deep-Sky Planner 5 (DSP5.) It has been updated to contain many more data items and expanded reporting features. New items have been identified through user requests and through months of research into observation data. Although many items can be recorded with an observation, all are not required so the user can determine which items to log. Some fairly advanced uses of these data will appear in DSP5. Convenience and flexibility in reporting have also been a focal point for the log.

For example, imagers have the ability to view equipment and exposure data taken directly from their image files and record them in the log. Another new capability allows users to access online resources directly from the log. Perhaps the most advanced new feature is the ability to record sky and weather conditions in extreme detail with observations. Users can access web resources and local ones to access these conditions.

The following screen shots show some of the new features in the Observation Browser.

DSP5 introduces support for all models of the Sky Quality Meter. Readings can be entered into an observation manually or automatically if the user has any of the models that support communications. This includes models with Ethernet, USB or 9-pin serial connections.

The expanse of data that can be recorded in an observation makes this portion of the observer's log a revolutionary improvement in astronomical logging software.

Handling log data is much more flexible and convenient. Users have complete control over report content and format through the new style sheet technology in DSP5. Furthermore, observations may be imported and exported in both a native Deep-Sky Planner format and the new OpenAstronomyLog format. OpenAstronomyLog is an international initiative by astronomical software developers to make observing logs portable between software applications. Knightware has embraced the standard and has contributed to its development.

The screen shot below shows an observation file exported in native DSP5 format and displayed using a style sheet that ships with DSP5. You can create your own style sheets and use them to display observations from DSP5.

The screen shot below shows the same observations exported in OpenAstronomyLog 2.0 format and displayed by Internet Explorer.

In addition to the reporting capability shown above, users can still search the log and produce reports in 2 predefined styles. These reports have styling capabilities, and they can be exported in multiple formats - HTML, formatted text or MS Excel.

22 November 2009

Deep-Sky Planner 5 Preview: New & Updated Catalogs

Deep-Sky Planner 5 features an updated and expanded database of deep-sky and stellar objects. Altogether, the database now contains over one million objects. There is also a wealth of cross reference information. There are over 62,000 cross reference names and over 175,000 other names. A cross reference name is a designation for an object in a catalog contained within the database. For example Messier 1 is also known as NGC 1952, Ced 53, LBN 833, Crab Nebula and Taurus A. The NGC, Ced and LBN catalogs are contained within the database so these designations are considered cross references. 'Crab nebula' and 'Taurus A' are considered common names because they are not designations from a catalog within the database.

Multi-Catalog Searching

Catalog data reporting has been enhanced to permit the searching of multiple catalogs or single catalogs. Single catalog searching still reports data in a catalog-specific way so that the most pertinent details from the catalog are at your disposal. Multiple catalog searching allows you to produce a single report of objects from multiple catalogs, but the report contains data items common to each selected catalog.

Deep-Sky Catalogs

The database contains data for a wide variety of objects, including quasars, supernova remnants, bright and dark nebulae, star clusters and galaxy clusters. It also contains a comprehensive collection of planetary nebulae and galaxies to magnitude 18. The majority of galaxy data is taken from the HyperLeda collection, and therefore contains the latest data available. Catalogs have been updated where possible and the Lynds Bright and Dark Nebulae catalogs have been added by request. There are currently over 820,000 deep-sky objects in the database.

Stellar Catalogs

Extensive updates and additions have been made among stellar object data. Catalogs have been updated where possible and the CCDM and G2V stars from the Hipparcos catalog have been added by request. There are now over 284,000 stellar objects in the database.
Double Stars
Double star observers will appreciate the addition of the CCDM catalog and an updated version of WDS (2009 version.) Together these catalogs place over 154,040 double star systems at your disposal. In addition to the official nomenclature, these stars are also identified by Discoverer names, Bayer/Flamsteed numbers and proper names as applicable - a total of over 165,000 names. The screen shot above shows a search of both double star catalogs by Bayer designation.
Variable Stars (and suspects)
Variable star observers will enjoy the updated GCVS and NSV data, both taken from the March 2009 version of this dataset. Over 66,000 variable stars are now at your disposal.
Imagers will appreciate the convenience of having a searchable set of G2V stars taken from the Hipparcos catalog to help with color-balancing images. The G2V dataset can be searched like any other, including for stars near an equatorial position in the sky determined by current telescope pointing position or by looking up another object's position in the database.

18 November 2009

Announcing Deep-Sky Planner 5 Preview

The time has finally arrived to announce the coming release of Deep-Sky Planner 5. The product is in late beta testing and should be ready to ship in January, 2010.

Deep-Sky Planner 5 has been under development for several years. It is the result of many discussions with visual and imaging observers, extensive research into what observers should record in a log, and it incorporates a number of new technologies. There is much more catalog data (both updated and new), many new features and some nice conveniences. Some features are likely the first of their kind in planning and logging software.

While there are new features and data, you can be assured that the product is still governed by some basic principles - software should be:
  1. easy to use
  2. accurate
  3. in this case, compliant with Windows guidelines
The latter is important not only from a usability standpoint, but also as regards security - a topic that is becoming increasingly important for products that provide online services, and those that operate properly with Windows Vista and Windows 7.

Articles outlining the new product will appear in this blog over the coming weeks while Deep-Sky Planner 5 undergoes final testing. These articles should help you get a better understanding of what's coming and when. Be sure to visit the preview page at knightware.biz for more information, and to get a glimpse of the product in action.

14 October 2009

Galaxy Salad

I have been working recently with galaxy data available from HyperLeda. Things have really changed since I got my first set of professional deep-sky catalog data on CD about 17 years ago. Back then, I ordered a set of CDs from the ADC and had to get a friend to let me use his CD drive to extract data - I didn't have a CD drive yet! Now days, oodles of data is available online and is updated constantly. Using the data wisely, of course, is the key.

I have been intrigued with the huge variation in magnitude and size data reported in some of the astronomical software I use. It's just not clear sometimes what data is reported by a given product. In the case of PGC data, most objects have size and B magnitude info, and some have B-V info that can be used to compute a V magnitude. I have one product that shows V magnitude if possible and B otherwise. It takes detective work to discern which is used for
magnitude filtering. The situation with size information is even more adventuresome. We have sizes in arcseconds, arminutes to tenths, arcminutes to hundredths; it's all over the place. The metric used for size in the catalog is a logarithm based on where the object fades out to 25th (B) magnitude. I have to wonder how meaningful size reported to arcseconds is when the surface brightness of many of these objects is above 23 mags/square arcsecond, but at least it's a consistent metric.

Maybe the most entertaining find of the day is that NGC 7009 is listed in HyperLeda as a galaxy. I've observed this object many times, mostly with 8 and 20 inch aperture telescopes, and found the usual classification of planetary nebula to be pretty plausible. Blinking an OIII filter does what you might expect with a planetary. It will take more research to understand why HyperLeda lists the Saturn Nebula as a galaxy...

04 October 2009

A new version of OpenAstronomyLog, also known as OAL, was released on 1 October 2009. This release is the first for the project under its new moniker, OpenAstronomyLog. OpenAstronomyLog is an effort to define astronomical observations in an open and platform-independent manner so that observing logs can be exchanged among observers. It is released under the Apache License Version 2.0.

The project began several years ago and was released with the name COMAST. That effort was developed by team members from Germany and Belgium, preceding participation by Knightware.

This version has taken many months of effort to develop, with cooperation being the key. Several applications will support observation import and export using OAL 2.0 soon. These include:
  • a free web application (DeepSkyLog.org) that currently houses thousands of observations in several languages
  • a free cross-platform application (Observation Manager) written in Java
  • commercial applications Eye&Telescope and Deep-Sky Planner
  • other application developers have indicated interest but release plans are not yet available
Knightware's role has been to develop support for importing and exporting data using OAL while enhancing the logging capabilities in Deep-Sky Planner. Months of research into many facets of observation logging have culminated in extensive enhancements to Deep-Sky Planner's logging capability, but have also benefited the OAL project.

While several technical debates arose during the process, the team worked with the guiding principle of cooperation to deliver the result. Some concerns were recognized and addressed, others accepted as compromise.

In the end, it has been a very rewarding experience and a pleasure to work with an international team dedicated to solving the longstanding problem of observation preservation and exchange.

Learn more about the project at:

13 September 2009

Logging Update and New Videos

Knightware has published yet another video series, this time concerning deep-sky observation planning. In particular, features found in Deep-Sky Planner's Advanced Deep-Sky document and report are described in a six-part series. Please visit the video library to watch the series or any individual video.

As mentioned in this blog in January, Knightware has participated in an international effort to develop and publish an observation data file format that is freely available, ostensibly to astronomy application developers. The effort is called OpenAstronomyLog, or OAL for short. Its home on the web is located at http://groups.google.com/group/openastronomylog. Support for the OAL standard in Deep-Sky Planner has been under development for some months and is nearly complete. The OAL group needs to agree that a new version (2.0) of the standard is ready for release, and Deep-Sky Planner will support it thereafter. Please watch for further news on this topic.

26 July 2009

Sleepy Summertime

Despite the usual summertime distractions (kids & vacation), work at Knightware rolls on...

A new video series has been published describing logging work flows in Deep-Sky Planner 4. Visit the video library to watch these videos.

A nice review of SQM Reader Pro appeared in the July/August issue of Astronomy Technology Today magazine. Author Jack Huerkamp put Unihedron's SQM-LE through its paces using SQM Reader and SQM Reader Pro.

I hope you had the opportunity to observe the impact site on Jupiter this week. The impact site is at 210 degrees longitude (system 2). You can use Deep-Sky Planner's Detailed Planet Ephemeris report to display the system 2 longitude on the central meridian of the planet at any time (see below).

18 June 2009

Deep-Sky Planner Videos

The first series of video tutorials for Deep-Sky Planner have been posted in the video library at the Knightware website and on the Knightware channel at YouTube. The videos are short (~5 minutes each) and can be watched online from either location. Enjoy!

The first series demonstrates using Deep-Sky Planner's Show Chart function with planetarium programs TheSky6, Redshift 7 and Starry Night 6. The latter is posted below as an example. Please stay tuned as more videos will be added to the library over the summer.

Thanks for watching!

11 May 2009

Now Playing on YouTube

Customers have requested tutorial videos for our software products, so we have created a channel on YouTube for these videos. You can access the channel at http://www.youtube.com/knightwareontube.

The first series of videos covers the new SQM Reader Pro product. You can watch these either on the Knightware website (http://www.knightware.biz/community/public/sqm1/video.htm) or on Knightware's YouTube channel. For those new to YouTube, you don't need an account to watch, just visit either web page and click play on the video player.

Your comments on the videos are welcome. You can send them via e-mail, post a comment at YouTube, or post to the product's Yahoo Group.

More videos will be published soon so please stay tuned. Thanks for watching!

07 May 2009

SQM Reader Pro Introductory Price Expires Soon

SQM Reader Pro has been on the market now for a few months. The introductory price for digital download and CD versions will increase on June 15, but the prices will remain extremely reasonable. SQM Reader will remain available by digital delivery at no charge.

Why the increase in a soft economy? As you might expect, there are many reasons. First, there were investments in several software products used to develop and support the new product. Those expenses need to be recovered to make way for further product development at Knightware. Furthermore, and very fortunately, demand has exceeded expectations. The product is already in use on every continent except Africa and Antarctica. Users' feedback on functionality and ease of use has been very positive.

Many of the new technologies used in SQM Reader Pro are finding their way into Deep-Sky Planner. This includes more than just reading the meter. Look for more on this in future posts. In the meantime, if you're thinking about getting a copy of SQM Reader Pro, you may want to grab one before the increase takes effect.

19 March 2009

A Record Month for Software Releases

It has been a busy 4 weeks for releases at Knightware. A new product, SQM Reader Pro, was released in mid-February followed by the release of updates to SQM Reader and Deep-Sky Planner. SQM Reader Pro introduces a new capability for Knightware - digital delivery of purchased software. It will be interesting to see how digital delivery compares to delivery of physical media (CD.)

The early March update to Deep-Sky Planner addressed a problem with using TheSky6 to control a telescope while using the 'Slew To' feature in a Deep-Sky Planner report. This problem was critical for users of Software Bisque's Paramount ME because it can only be controlled by TheSky. With this update, users of TheSky6 should be squared away.

That brings us to mid-March and the second update to Deep-Sky Planner in 4 weeks time - a record for the product. The need for a second update came out of the blue, but was nonetheless worthwhile.

A new version of Redshift was released recently (Redshift 7 Premium) and Deep-Sky Planner needed a minor change to support interoperation with it. Deep-Sky Planner 4 has supported Redshift 6 Premium since Oct 2007.

Redshift 7 Premium is already available (starting in December in Europe and in January in the US market where version 6 was never officially sold), and it is an 'IYA2009 Official Product' - see http://www.astronomy2009.org/resources/products/redshift/ Furthermore, Redshift 7 Premium and Deep-Sky Planner 4 will be demonstrated working together at a star party hosted by United Soft Media (publishers of Redshift) and Baader Planetarium in Munich in early April. Catch that if you can - the event is a part of the worldwide "100 Hours of Astronomy".

And finally, an apology for update madness...
As a customer of many software products, I might find updating my product twice in one month to be excessive, but this has been an unusual situation that I believe merited quick attention. It's too bad that release timing wasn't a little different: testing updates is very time consuming and ranks high in tedium. Hopefully this will be it for a while!

17 February 2009

SQM Reader Pro 1.0 is released

SQM Reader Pro has been released, giving owners of the Sky Quality Meter with Lens and Ethernet a new tool to read their meter. If you own an SQM-LE and use Windows, this software really can do a lot for you. You can check it out at http://knightware.biz/sqm/readerpro.htm

This project has been one of the most efficient in my 27 years of software engineering. The beta test went extremely well thanks to responsive, thorough team members. Even the resource and memory leak testing went without a hitch.

This has been a special project as it has brought together 18 years of experience in reading and managing data from meters, and the opportunity to empower people to argue the light pollution point with hard facts. It's also intriguing to be able to know how dark the sky is at any location in real-time - a boon for astrophotographers working remotely.

02 February 2009

SQM Reader Pro entering beta test

Over the past few months I have received a number of requests for enhancements to SQM-LE Reader (released Sep 2008.) As a result, I have added these enhancements to a new product that will be called SQM Reader Pro. SQM-LE Reader will continue to be available for free, although the title will be changed to SQM Reader.

SQM Reader Pro will most likely be available in March. Details of the product's features will be announced on knightware.biz after the beta test is complete, but generally you can look for a Windows program that reads an SQM-LE device, displays the latest reading, a graph of recent readings and some elementary statistics (min, max, mean and standard deviation.) The product will include the ability to send an image of the latest reading or the latest graph as a JPEG file to a web site using FTP, or to a processing program, script or batch file.

This project has married together my years of experience in developing software for the electrical power metering industry and my interest in quantifying the darkness of our night sky.

30 January 2009

Logging Standard Update

In my last few posts, I've talked about logging standards and a promising project under development that may bring a common observation exchange format to the astronomical community. This project has moved forward and has undergone some changes recently. The project described on this blog and formerly known as COMAST has been renamed to OpenAstronomyLog - or <OAL> for short - and it has a new home on the Web at http://groups.google.com/group/openastronomylog . Although the website is under construction now, it is a repository for developer information and discussion among users and developers.

There are a number of participants in the project that are working toward an upcoming release of the standard that will encompass several enhancements to the previous release (COMAST v1.7) and will, of course, sport the new project name <OAL>. Deep-Sky Planner does not yet support <OAL> but will do so in a future release. Considerable R&D time has been spent over the past months preparing to support the standard and making minor contributions to it. In-house tools have been developed for converting existing DSP4 observations to and from the standard format, so the concept is proven.

Hopefully the issues that arose for this developer can be addressed in material on the OpenAstronomyLog website so that other developers can adopt the standard easily. I invite you to visit the website and consider how saving your observations in an open exchange format might benefit you and the astronomical community at large.