21 July 2014

Deep-Sky Planner Q&A Webinar - July 2014

July Webinar - Double Star Designations
The latest Deep-Sky Planner webinar was held Saturday, July 19. It addressed a question submitted by a user about searching for double stars in Deep-Sky Planner. Double star designations take a wide variety of forms so searching for them can be tricky. The goal of the webinar was to answer this question and share some tips on searching for double stars effectively in Deep-Sky Planner.

Search tools and methods were discussed, including searching by Bayer number, WDS and CCDM numbers, and using wildcards in designations. A few advanced methods were also discussed. The webinar lasted 16 minutes.

The webinar is available now for replay viewing at:
Viewers that are logged into their Google+ accounts can leave comments about the webinar on the deepskyplanner Google+ page or on the deepskyplanner YouTube channel.

Thanks for watching!

24 March 2014

Deep-Sky Planner Q&A Webinar

Knightware held a Deep-Sky Planner Q&A webinar on Saturday, March 22. It was delivered worldwide via Google+ Hangouts. The broadcast allowed Knightware to answer users' questions directly as we would when speaking face to face at star parties and trade shows.

The webinar replay is available now at several locations:
Current users were asked to submit questions in advance, and they were all related to creating observing lists. The first question was how to select variable stars by magnitude, constellation, spectral type and visibility at a given time and place. The demonstration showed how to select a base list of objects using the star search document. The results were copied into an observing plan document for real-time use at the telescope. The observing plan document allowed the user to compute ephemeral data like altitude and azimuth continuously, so the list was filtered by minimum altitude and sorted by best time to view. Using this strategy, the user could work through an observing list as best suited their time and site constraints.

The second question was much like the first, except that the user was interested in double stars and wanted to specify a range of separation angles. The demonstration proceed much like the first, except that a maximum separation angle of 2 arc seconds was used to create the initial list. These results were copied to an observing plan so that the user could apply the same real-time filters and sort options as described above.

The third and final question was a bit different from the previous ones. The user wanted to make an observing list for a public observing session. Since the public is usually interested in brighter objects, we created a deep-sky search document and searched for objects in the Messier catalog that were at least magnitude 9 or brighter. A time and place for the ephemeral calculations was selected and the results were limited to objects at an altitude of at least 20 degrees. The resulting list could be sorted and filtered further as needed.

Over the course of the webinar, we showed some other features that helped users, like object drag and drop between reports, DSS image acquisition, daily object altitude graphs and object cross reference lookup (which provided detailed data for a variable star that also appeared in the Carbon Star catalog). Of further interest to star observers, we showed predicted date & time of light extrema for variables and high precision ephemerides for double stars.

Knightware plans to have further webinars - perhaps quarterly. We will solicit questions from users in advance so that demonstrations are concise. Next time, we will accept comments and minor questions from viewers during the webinar through Google+. While anyone can view the webinar, it should be noted that viewers will need to have a Google+ account and follow the deepskyplanner Google+ page to submit questions during the broadcast. They will also receive an invitation to the webinar automatically.

Special thanks go to our friend Michael Kidd and the folks at Astronomy magazine for answering questions about using Google+ for the webinar. Your help made the webinar possible.

03 February 2014

Current Studies of Light Pollution

Phyllis Lang, owner of Knightware, recently gave a presentation on Light Pollution at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. Some of the content had local relevance (City of Raleigh ordinances), but most was of a more general nature.

The presentation defined light pollution and its unwanted effects - economic, environmental and astronomical. Regardless of the effect that motivated them, people were interested in taking simple steps to mitigate light pollution. These easy steps were mentioned as effective changes that citizens can take:
  • Aim outdoor lighting downward.
  • Shield outdoor lighting fixtures. Suggestions are available from the International Dark-Sky Association
  • Turn off outdoor lighting when not actually needed.

Measuring light pollution is a vital component in understanding light pollution - in both what it affects and how. Citizen scientists can help with this task by participating in the Globe at Night and Great Worldwide Star Count projects. These are easy projects for families and school groups, and the results are useful to researchers worldwide.

Large scale studies can be conducted by institutions and governments. These studies are supported by objective methods of measuring light pollution which are readily available now. Off-the-shelf equipment, such as Unihedron's Sky Quality Meter and Knightware's SQM Reader Pro are being used in a surprising number of studies worldwide. Some examples include:
  • University of Hong Kong
  • Governments of Australia, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands
  • US National Parks Service

While astronomers have used light pollution studies for years to plan the locations of their observatories, many other issues are being studied now. The leading issues being studied are economic waste, harm to animals, and the inability to view the natural night sky. One of the most surprising issues studied recently was the effect of light pollution on urban air chemistry; that is, air pollution. This one was conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado.

Light pollution affects more than most people realize, and the list of problems caused by it is growing. Researchers will continue to explore this issue, and concerned citizens can take effective action today to mitigate the problem.

01 January 2014

Binocular Observers: an under-served community?

Binocular observers seem like an under-served community of astronomical observers. Imaging and observing with telescopes receive much more attention, even though binoculars are regularly mentioned when new observers ask 'how should I start?'

With that issue in mind, Knightware has produced observing plans from Phil Harrington's monthly Binocular Universe column on CloudyNights.com for over a year. Each plan, and a compendium of all 2013 plans, are available to licensed users of Deep-Sky Planner 6 in the online Plan Library (http://knightware.biz/community/loginfm.php).

In each article, Harrington describes several objects visible during the month, and he provides a star chart to accompany the article. Objects are visible to northern hemisphere observers, and many are also visible to southern hemisphere observers. For objects that are described in his book, Touring the Universe Through Binoculars (Wiley & Sons), he provides a page number reference. The book is a wonderful reference for binocular observers, so Knightware's observing plans include these page numbers. If you haven't read Binocular Universe, you can find it at http://www.cloudynights.com/. Touring the Universe Through Binoculars is available in paperback and for Kindle.

There is another excellent resource for observers that comes from the UK. Stephen Tonkin publishes a monthly newsletter for binocular observers entitled Binocular Sky. You can find his web page and newsletter at http://binocularsky.com/. Stephen also authored the book Binocular Astronomy (Springer), and he currently authors a column called Binocular Tour each month in Sky At Night magazine. Binocular Tour includes a handful of popular binocular targets that any observer would enjoy. Binocular Astronomy is available in paperback and for Kindle.

If you haven't observed with binoculars lately, why not take them out next time you observe? And don't forget these resources specifically for binocular observers.