SkyMap Pro 10
This page describes in detail the new features in SkyMap Pro 10, and will be of particular interest to existing users of older versions of the program.
A new "Tools/Download Data" menu item allows you to automatically download new comet, asteroid, and artificial satellite data from the Internet at the click of a button; much more convenient than having to manually download data files from web sites. A new configuration dialog on the "File/Preferences" menu allows you to set up the URL from which each type of information is downloaded. For asteroids (which have an extremely large catalog), you can choose whether you wish to download the entire catalog, or just the first n asteroids (where n is a number of your choice); this latter option is very useful for quickly updating asteroid data if you're only interested in bright asteroids.
SkyMap is now supplied on two CD-ROMS; one containing the program, as before, and the other containing over 15,000 pictures extracted (with kind permission) from the on-line "Digitized Sky Survey". A picture is supplied for every object in the NGC/IC, SAC, Harris, and Strasbourg catalogs; the pictures are in JPEG format, and each shows a 15 arc minute region of the sky centred on the coordinates of the specified object. Installation of this picture collection is optional; if installed, it requires approximately 500MB of hard disk space. This is a fabulous resource for deep sky observers, allowing you to look at just about every deep sky object visible in a moderately-sized telescope.
SkyMap can now, optionally, automatically download a picture of any object from the Internet. If you ask to view a picture of an object and no picture is available "locally", the program can now be configured to ask if you'd like to download a picture from the Internet. If you say "Yes", the picture is downloaded and displayed as a JPEG picture. The downloaded picture is stored in a "PictureCache" directory so that in future it's available for "offline" viewing.
SkyMap can now locate a picture of an object using any of the names of the object known to the program. Previously you had to name a picture using SkyMap's "preferred" name for the object.
When pictures are displayed, you now have the choice of using either SkyMap's built-in picture viewer, or an external viewer of your choice. If you decide to use an external viewer, you can either explicitly specify the name of an application, or allow Window to use whatever viewer is "registered" for a particular file extension.
A drop-down list on the "Configure Pictures" dialog box now permits you to choose the "quality" of JPEG images created by SkyMap. This allows you to decide for yourself whether you want large, high quality images, small, low quality ones, or something in between. This quality setting is used both when downloading pictures of objects from the Internet, and when saving a map as a JPEG picture.
Stars can now optionally be displayed as "bitmaps" as an alternative to the "symbolic" representation available in previous versions of the program. Bitmap stars look more "realistic" and (especially in wide- field "planetarium" views) are much more visually attractive, but convey less information about the star (eg there's no indication as to whether the star is double or variable). The display can easily be "toggled" between symbolic and bitmap star display. The user can, if desired, easily supply alternate sets of bitmap images to be used. A new keyboard shortcut command, "GToggleBitmaps", and by default assigned to the key sequence "Ctrl+B", toggles the display between symbolic and bitmap stars.
The separate deep sky object catalogs used by previous versions of SkyMap have been replaced by a single "combined" deep sky catalog, which combines the information from all the source catalogs into a single merged catalog. This greatly improves the efficiency of the program, as well as providing enormously more consistent handling of all the different names an object can be known by. It also drastically reduces the problem of "double plotting", whereby in previous versions of the program the same object was plotted twice in slightly different positions from two different catalogs. The full catalog record from each catalog in which the object appears is still displayed on the information dialog for an object.
The information previously present in the "Revised NGC/IC" catalog has been updated with a more recent version of the catalog. This fixes many known errors, and provides additional useful information. The most important new information provided is visual magnitude for galaxies; previously, galaxy magnitude was B filter magnitude which tended to be anything up to 1 mag fainter than V mag.
The information previously present in the LEDA galaxy catalog has been updated with a more recent version of the catalog; the "PGC 1999" catalog. This contains information on 194,000 galaxies (33,000 more than the version of the catalog used previously), and contains greatly improved data.
The information previously present in the "Strasbourg Catalogue of Galactic Planetary Nebulae" has been replaced by the much more modern "Strasbourg-ESO" catalog. This contains more and also more accurate information about each object. Planetary nebulae can now be referred to either by their old "PK" designations, or the new IAU-conformant "PN G" designations.
The list of "popular names" of deep sky objects has been greatly expanded, allowing both searching of, and labelling of, deep sky objects by these additional names.
Added a new "Visibility" page to the deep sky object configuration dialog. This allows you to specify a separate view level for each different type of deep sky object (galaxies, dark nebulae, open clusters, etc), above which all objects of that type will be displayed on the map. This permits a much finer degree of control over what is displayed on the map and allows, for example, the display of bright nebulae on the map (many of which don't have a magnitude listed in the catalogs) without "swamping" the map with faint galaxies (many of which also have no cataloged magnitude).
When displaying a "tooltip" for an object, if there's both a star and a deep sky object close to the mouse pointer position, we display tooltip information for the deep sky object rather than the star. This is especially helpful in cases where there's a "fake" GSC star in the centre of the object, as is frequently the case with galaxies, for example.
The "Background Image" facility has been totally rewritten and improved. Multiple background images can now be added to a map, and images automatically downloaded from the Internet. Background images are now associated with specific objects on the map, and can optionally be cached, permitting an image to be redisplayed from the cache rather than being re-read from the Internet or RealSky CD-ROMs. The "View/Clean Up Map" menu item now removes background images from the map.
The observing log reporting facility has been completely rewritten. The previous "tabular" report is now displayed using HTML, which greatly increases the available formatting options; the appearance can be customized by the user by editing a supplied HTML cascading style sheet (CSS) file. A new "detailed" report has been added, showing a page of information about a single observation. This detailed report is generated from an HTML "template" file and is completely "customizable" by the user to show any desired items of information in a totally flexible format.
When the observing log is queried for observations of an object, observations of all the object's possible names are returned, rather than just observations of SkyMap's "preferred" name for the object as was the case in earlier versions of the program. This allows you to use any name for the object when logging an observation, and still retain the ability to subsequently locate previously logged observations.
Added a new "Observation notes" font setting for the font used for the "Notes" field of an observation. It's useful to be able to set this to use a font larger than the default dialog font when logging observations "in the field".
Whenever an observation is written to the observing log, the database is written to disk. This reduces the likelihood of losing newly logged observations in the event of, for example, a system crash or power failure.
All the object information dialogs now display their information using HTML. The dialogs are resizable (the size is automatically stored between runs of the program), and the displayed information can be copied to the Windows clipboard, saved as either HTML or plain text, and printed. The appearance of the dialog can be totally customised by editing a supplied cascading style sheet (CSS) file. Some of the dialogs now include "hyperlinks" for quickly locating specific catalog records within the displayed information.
If an object has a picture, a "thumbnail" of the picture is now displayed at the top of the object's information dialog. Clicking the thumbnail displays the full-size picture. This is especially useful when combined with the new pictures collection; a picture is displayed automatically for virtually all deep sky objects. The size of the thumbnail picture can be configured in the picture configuration dialog.
When right clicking on an object, you can now optionally display "Add to Target List", "Log Observation", and "Query Observing Log" items on the pop-up menu. These are very useful shortcuts for people who make extensive use of target lists or the observing log. These new menu items can be individually switched on or off via the general preferences configuration dialog.
The "Hours of Darkness" dialog now has a "Set Time" button which, when clicked, will set the map time to the start of true darkness (if any) on the selected date. This is very useful for people who want to see "what's up" at the time it gets dark.
The orientation of the printer page (portrait or landscape) is now automatically stored by the program between runs, rather than automatically defaulting to the printer default (normally portrait) every time the program is run. Very useful for people who habitually print landscape-orientation star charts.
Added "delta T" historical data for the years 2000 and 2001 from the 2003 edition of the "Astronomical Almanac". This makes SkyMap more accurate (by a very slight amount!) for events such as eclipses occurring during these years.
Pressing the "T" key now toggles the visibility of the search target marker on and off. Previously, once hidden it could not be redisplayed.
A telescope driver has been added for the "Sky Tracker" goto system.
A telescope driver has been added allowing SkyMap to control any telescope or mount supported by the ASCOM standard (see http://www.ascom-standards.org for details of ASCOM, and http://www.ascom-standards.org/drivers.html for a list of devices currently supported by ASCOM). This driver was written by Mark Crossley, and is used with his kind permission. Note that, in order to use ASCOM, a 5MB runtime package must first be downloaded from the ASCOM web site and installed on your PC.