12 December 2013

Astronomy Films

Knightware has made minor contributions to the making of two films in the recent past. One film has been released, the other will be released next summer. In each case, the filmmakers are providing some very impressive entertainment for amateur astronomers.

The first film is Ces Fous d'Astronomie (translated: "those crazy about astronomy"). It is a 60 minute film about astronomers, and it is available now on DVD from http://www.fousdastro.com/. Knightware contributed a copy of SQM Reader Pro in support of the project.

The film highlights several astronomers in their quest to view and image the night skies. Several well-known amateur and professional astronomers appear in the movie (Christian Buil, Thierry LeGault, Nicolas Outters, Hubert Reeves, André Brahic). You'll need to brush up your French for this one - it is in French with no subtitles and is beautifully produced. You can learn more and view a trailer at http://www.fousdastro.com/.

Used by permission of SV2 Studios
The second film is In Saturn's Rings. This is a unique production - taking over a million images produced by Hubble Space Telescope and various spacecraft, and processing them into an IMAX format film. The film will include a professionally written score performed by the Greensboro (NC) Symphony Orchestra, giving a real treat to eye and ear.

The film is due to be released in summer 2014, but snippets have been available for viewing over recent years. The snippets have been nothing less than stunning! You can learn more about the film and view a trailer at http://www.insaturnsrings.com/home/. The film also has a presence on Facebook, Google+, Twitter and YouTube.

Knightware (Phyllis) met the filmmaker a few years ago and was extremely impressed with his talent and vision.  Knightware made a financial contribution in support of this project.

Each of these films deserves the support of the amateur astronomy community. We hope you enjoy them!

09 December 2013

Free Meter Tools in the SQM Reader Pro Community

A new page has been published to the SQM Reader Pro 2 Licensed Users' Community. You can reach it by clicking Help | Community Page in SQM Reader Pro 2, or by visiting http://knightware.biz/community/loginfm.php and entering your log in credentials. These pages are available only to licensed users, and they provide a free service to users that upload readings to the public SQM Readings Map page. These pages are also available through the browser on any mobile device. The new page is called Meter Tools and is available from the community menu.

Community Home page

Once you reach the Meter Tools page, you can view a record of your meter installation(s). Please note that there may be multiple entries for your meter serial number. If you have used your meter at different locations, there should be multiple entries. Furthermore, when you change the timezone offset in SQM Reader Pro, perhaps for daylight saving time, this also generates an additional meter installation in the database.

If you have changed the location of your meter in SQM Reader Pro to correct an error, that also generates an additional meter installation. If you have this issue and wish to collate all readings under one location, please send an email to Knightware and we can do this for you. Please include the meter serial number and the correct location, enclosure offset and timezone offset for your meter.

Please note the Obfuscated column in the Meter Tools page. This indicates whether the true location of your meter is used or altered when displayed on the public SQM Readings Map page. Meter installation locations are obfuscated by default to protect the security of the installation. If you wish to have the true location of the meter installation displayed on the Map, please send Knightware an email and we can make this change for you. Be sure to indicate the meter serial number and other installation details.

Meter Tools page

You can view a Meter Readings Digest of your data over the last 30, 90 or 365 days by clicking the appropriate link on the Meter Tools page. The digest includes a graph of the selected meter's readings and a brief statistical analysis of the readings sample. Please note the graphing software renders the graph on demand. If you have a large number of readings (> 20,000) in the selected sample, the graph may not render because it may exceed the computation time limit for the software. If you have a moderate sized sample, please give the graphing software time to complete its rendering.

90 Day Graph & Statistics

02 December 2013

More Improvements to the Knightware Website

More improvements have been published on the Knightware website. Most noticeable are the changes to the menus throughout the site. The old menus were not friendly to mobile browsers - the drop-down capability that exposed subtopic pages didn't work on mobile browsers. The new menus are mobile-friendly so that the entire site can be navigated efficiently on a phone or tablet. The site has been reviewed with 7 & 10 inch tablets, and all appears well. In fact, you can still view an abbreviated version of any observing plan in the Plan Library with your mobile device browser - just log into the User's Community and browse.

New mobile-friendly menus

SQM Reader Pro Community Updates

Plans are underway to provide new tools for users of SQM Reader Pro 2 that contribute data to the SQM Readings Map page. Users have already contributed over 66,000 readings, and the new tools will help users understand their data in new ways. Tools should begin to appear in the SQM Reader Pro 2 user's community soon - please stay tuned.

Getting More Social

You may notice that social bookmarking buttons have been added to the bottom of most web pages. These buttons will help users to bookmark the pages that are most beneficial to them while sharing links to these pages with friends. We have also added a 'Link To Us' page that we hope will encourage users to share information about Deep-Sky Planner and SQM Reader Pro with others. We thank you in advance for sharing links to the website!

Link To Us page

Introducing: deepskyplanner on Google+

Finally, there is a new deepskyplanner page on Google+. We expect to use this page initially like our page on Facebook - to share announcements about new observing plans, new product features, etc. We will monitor the popularity of the Google+ page and consider using the vast array of features that Google+ offers in the future. Please add the deepskyplanner page to your circles!

08 November 2013

Improvements to the Deep-Sky Planner Community

Some improvements appeared this week in the Deep-Sky Planner Licensed Users' Community at knightware.biz. The improvements appeared in the Observing Plan Library and the Equipment Library. The changes make viewing data more efficient.

The old library viewing pages allowed users to page through items in the library. Items were listed in alphabetical order, 10 items per page. The libraries have grown in size so that paging through the data was no longer a sufficient way to navigate the contents.

The new library viewing pages are much more suited to the number of items in the libraries. Now items in a library can be sorted, filtered and searched. Users can also set the number of items viewed per page so that there is far less paging through the library while looking for plans and equipment. For example, the Plan Library can be filtered for plans whose names contain the word 'binocular', or the plans can be sort by their upload date. These capabilities should make using the Plan Library much easier as it continues to grow in size.

Observing Plan Library web page

Speaking of Growth

The Deep-Sky Planner 6 Plan Library has grown to nearly 300 pre-built observing plans. There are plans related to observing books, star parties and organizations. There are also plans that accompany popular monthly magazines and online articles:
  • Binocular Universe (cloudynights.com): Plans that accompany Phil Harrington's monthly 'Binocular Universe' article on CloudyNights.com have been added to the Plan Library since December 2012. These plans hold a nice mix of objects for binocular observers every month.
  • Deep-Sky Tour (Sky At Night magazine): Plans that accompany Steve Richards' monthly 'Deep-Sky Tour' column in Sky At Night magazine have been added to the Library since December 2011. These plans contain objects appropriate for small telescope observers. The plan file also appears on the coverdisc CD that accompanies each issue, along with a version of the plan file for Argo Navis devices. They are located in the Software section of the CD.
  • New! Deep-Sky Wonders (Sky & Telescope magazine): Plans that accompany Sue French's monthly 'Deep-Sky Wonders' column in Sky & Telescope magazine are being added to the Plan Library starting December 2013. These plans contain objects appropriate for medium to large sized telescopes every month.

These plans are very handy to use when you are working through an observing list in a magazine or a book, or you haven't had time to prepare a custom plan of your own. They can also be viewed by licensed users with a web browser on any mobile device directly from the Plan Library.

25 October 2013

Dark Sky Readings

Knightware is keenly aware that light pollution is ruining stargazing for observers around the world. Measuring the darkness of the sky is useful to many pursuits beyond the simple visual observer. Astro-imagers use the measurements to estimate exposures; biologists use them to study various affects on humans and animals. The importance of gathering such data is explained in last month's post, entitled 'Why is the Skyglow Observations Standard Format Important?'.

Gathering Readings Data Automatically

Knightware added a feature to its astronomy software entitled SQM Reader Pro 2 that sends readings acquired from the user's Sky Quality Meter to the Knightware website, knightware.biz. Sending readings to this webpage is optional, and the exact location of the meter is altered a small amount to protect the privacy of the contributor.

Send reading to Knightware

Displaying Readings Data

The contributed readings data are displayed on a Google Map for public viewing at http://www.knightware.biz/community/public/sqm2/sqm_map.php. In the month since the software was released, 14,000 readings have been contributed from 9 meter installation sites. The number of readings is high because some users are contributing data as often as once per minute. Others are contributing less frequently. Readings are only accepted when the sun is below the horizon at the location of the meter.

SQM Readings Map

Knightware has been working on back-end data management tools to keep the data 'cleaned up'. Work on these tools is nearly complete. One  problem that we've already seen is that sometimes readings are submitted for a single meter at multiple meter installations over a few days. A meter installation is defined as the meter serial number, latitude, longitude and time offset from GMT. That essentially describes the hardware and it's location, and it is represented on the map as a marker with a number on it. It looks like some users change the latitude and longitude of the meter slightly to refine it's position on the map. When this pattern is detected, Knightware can move all of the readings to the meter installation that seems to be the final, corrected one. If a user sees their contributed data condensed into one map marker, that's why.

The public map displays a marker for each meter installation with a number on it. The number indicates the last reading reported for the meter location with fractional digits truncated. By clicking on a marker, a user can see the date & time of the reading in both local and universal time, the reading data in both MPSAS and NELM, and the moon's altitude and phase. The mean and standard deviation of all readings received over the latest 12 months from the meter installation with the moon below the local horizon are also shown.
Meter Installation Detail
Once the back-end tools are complete, Knightware will begin working on other tools for licensed users that will allow them to view more details of their data. Requirements for these tools are being gathered now.


Knightware thanks all of the SQM Reader Pro 2 users that are contributing data to the Knightware website. The goal is to provide both a publicly accessible display of the data and a more in-depth display for licensed users.

25 September 2013

Why is the Skyglow Observations Standard Format Important?

In the summer of 2012, Knightware participated in an international effort to define a standard file format for dark sky readings data. The data is also referred to as skyglow or light pollution data. After weeks of discussion, the standard was approved by the international community in September 2012 and resides online at http://www.darksky.org/night-sky-conservation/248.

Skyglow Standard document

The standard file format allows data to be collected using various devices, including the connected models of Unihedron's Sky Quality Meter, all of which are supported in Knightware's SQM Reader Pro 2 software.

These readings files can be shared with dark sky researchers worldwide who are studying various affects of light pollution. The interested parties include the astronomical institutions, observatory owners, and a large community of researchers that examine the biological effects of light pollution.

Given a standard file format, readings can be processed and placed in database repositories for use in research or simply for viewing by the public. For the first time, calibrated darkness data can be used on a wide-scale so that we can understand how light pollution is changing over time.

The Skyglow Standard describes in detail the meter installation, the contributor of the data, the license under which data is submitted and a description of the hardware. This information is followed by the reading data itself. There are further rules that define when a file is started and stopped and how it is named.

The Skyglow Storage definition tab in SQM Reader Pro 2

A skyglow file looks like a simple text file. This permits users to read the file with a simple ASCII text editor as shown below. The Standard assures that a well-defined dataset that can be submitted to data repositories anywhere in the world for various research purposes.

Skyglow Example File

Knightware is delighted to have participated in the development of the Skyglow Standard file format, and to support it in SQM Reader Pro 2 software, the only commercially available software that reads sky darkness data from Sky Quality Meters automatically and continuously, displays and graphs data, stores data in files and transfers it to an FTP server and post processing scripts, batch files and programs.

24 September 2013

Announcing SQM Reader Pro 2 software

Knightware has just released a new version of SQM Reader Pro software. SQM Reader Pro 2 is the only commercially available software that reads sky darkness data from connected Sky Quality Meters automatically and continuously, displays and graphs data, stores data in files and transfers it to an FTP server and post processing scripts, batch files and programs. Readings can be submitted automatically to a live SQM Readings Map web page at Knightware.biz.

SQM Reader Pro version 1 was released on 2009 and has had several updates. Version 2 is the result of over a year's research and development. It contains new graphing software and offers many new features.

Highlights of the new features include:

  • Numerous enhancements to data graphs. Now users can view graphs of both MPSAS (magnitude per square arcsecond) and NELM (naked-eye limiting magnitude) in real-time, and either or both graphs can be transferred to an FTP server. Lunar altitude and phase data have been added.


NELM Graph

  • Support for the new Skyglow Observations Standard file format. The new file standard is a very important development for light pollution researchers. The next blog post will describe the Skyglow Standard and why it is important.

A Skyglow Format File
  • Open and process stored readings files. Users can open readings files stored in SQM Reader Pro format, Skyglow and Unihedron Device Manager format. Once open, the user can view graphs of the entire data file and statistics calculated for the entire file.

File | Open Dialog

  • Contribute readings to Knightware's SQM Readings Map web page. Users can elect to submit readings to the Map web page. The location of each meter installation is obscured so that the location of the actual meter remains secure. Readings cannot be submitted while the sun is above the horizon since such readings have little value.

    Detailed information is available for a meter installation by clicking on it's marker on the web page. The latest reading is displayed, along with altitude and phase of the moon. Statistics are calculated and displayed for each meter's readings. The statistics are calculated only for moonless readings.
SQM Readings Map Web Page


SQM Reader Pro 2 operates on Windows 8, 7, Vista and XP. It supports reading SQM models LE (Ethernet), LU and LU-DL (USB) and LR (RS-232). Context sensitive online help is included, as well as a printable User's Guide in PDF format.

SQM Reader Pro 2 is available directly from Knightware at http://knightware.biz/sqm

04 January 2013

The Inimitable Burnham's

A user of Deep-Sky Planner contributed 83 plan files that contained the deep-sky objects from Burnham's Celestial Handbook. I checked the plan files against my rather dog-earred 3 volume set for accuracy. Paging through these softbound copies brought back some great memories.

I purchased a softcover set in the mid-eighties when I first became an active observer. Ultimately there were 3 sets in my household - 2 for indoor use and one for outdoor use. The latter set accompanied me on most observing sessions for years. Burnham's was a great reference resource back in the days before the Internet revolutionized astronomical research for observers and astrophotographers. Those volumes never needed cellular or wi-fi signal in the field either.

My recent use of these books reminded me of 2 things:
  • What a great work this was! No wonder everyone owned a set 25 years ago.
  • Although the data in the set is dated, it is still a handy resource. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the set to someone new to astronomy.
If Burnham's is such a nice resource, why hasn't a new edition been published? To me, a new edition should have updated object data and the printing style would be updated (using hand drawn Greek letters for double stars was always a bit quaint). I would leave Burnham's comments as they are because that is what separates this resource from others available today. I would release the books in print and as e-books.

So why hasn't a second edition happened? I suppose that the reasons are legal and economic. I suspect that the manuscript is not digitized. That means the content would have to be digitized first. I would think that this could be automated, but an investment of some man-hours would be necessary ($$$). After an accurate digitization, object data would need to be updated. That would be more man-hours ($), but probably a small fraction of the first effort. Finally, the owner of the copyrights would have to authorize a new edition or a third party would have to acquire the copyrights. According to US Copyright Office records, the copyrights were transferred from Burnham's estate to a trustee in 1996 and they endure for 70 years. Executing this step would entail legal fees ($$) and perhaps a purchase of copyrights.

I wouldn't be surprised if all of the above investment scares away would-be publishers. If my analysis is valid, a new edition of Burnham's seems very unlikely. What a shame - I would purchase an updated set without hesitation in both printed and electronic formats.