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.