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.