Sky Tools 3
This is a review of updated observing software from Skyhound called Sky Tools 3. Skyhound is owned by Greg Crinklaw, a programmer who is trained as a professional Astronomer. Greg lives in Cloudcroft, New Mexico so he's no stranger to dark skies. For several years I have used his web site (Observing at Skyhound ), http://observing.skyhound.com/ for up to date accurate information on comet hunting. The web site also contains monthly observing charts.
Sky Tools 3 comes in two editions (Standard and Pro). The one I will review is the standard edition. What makes Sky Tools 3 unique is that it is a combination of planetarium, filtered list generating, and logging programs which interact with each other. The Pro edition adds telescope control and millions more stars which is designed for imaging.
I downloaded the full standard addition to my Windows XP computer which used 540.00MB of memory. The software works flawlessly. There are so many features in this program that it took me two whole days to feel comfortable using it and many more days to learn all its options. It is worth the effort to learn its functions so planning a night of observing becomes quick and easy. There is help available for every function. The first thing I did was enter my personal observing information such as telescopes, eyepiece specs., finder specs., observer and observing locations which will include light pollution and sky darkness, time and date. The more accurate that the information is that you enter, the better the charts and observing lists will be tailored to your observing needs. An example of a printed chart will include a naked eye view, a finder scope view and an eyepiece view all on one page. The chart views are flipped to match the telescope and finder. Interaction between the planning lists and the atlas are just one click away. Any perimeter of the charts or lists can be tailored vary easily. For example if I change telescopes all the object information will reflect the changes such as its visibility or which eyepiece it recommends. The observing lists can be downloaded from the software database, imported from the Sky Tool web site or any other site you choose. Lists of current comets, asteroids, Novae, and Supernovae are updated with one click. Every object has detailed information and observing data such as a difficulty rating, optimum observing time which includes a night bar, eyepiece recommendation, etc. Changing any perimeter such as location or telescope will adjust observing specifications instantly.
The Data Base Power Search Tab is used for locating an individual object. Click on the object type and the catalog of your choice, than search. You can narrow the search by adding other parameters such constellation, magnitude, etc. As an example, I've used this software for looking up information and location for double stars using the Data Base Power Search tab. I set the search for Multiple stars in the constellation of my choice and every double star was displayed. I than located the stars by coordinates and with a click all star information and finder charts are available. I have also used this program for comet hunting. The list of current comets is automatically updated and its state of visibility and location are available along with all its information and charts.
Recording your objects or images can be logged in the software by clicking the Log Book tab. The image center will also download images from the Digital Sky Survey which can be entered into your log book.
Other features of this software include a Current and Special Events planner for meteor showers, eclipses, planet occultation's, transits, and all planetary information. There's a printable calendar with nightly observing information such as solar/lunar rise/set times, hours of darkness, and any type of event you may want to enter.
As you can see this software covers several different programs all in one and it does it very well. The only thing I feel could be added to the software is the ability to scroll around the sky in the Interactive Atlas. The atlas is done very well but I like to click an arrow button or a direction button to move around the sky like many planetarium programs. This atlas has to be zoomed in or out, than clicked on a location and centered to move around the sky. This software excels in observation planning, list generation, charting, and object logging. The $99.95 (plus shipping) question; is this software worth it and is it any better than the free programs out there? After using this for four months I still haven't used all its features. I think for one quick and detailed program to do my observing planning I would purchase this software. I haven't seen any freeware that can compete with Sky Tools 3. Club discounts are available for group purchases. A quantity of 2-9 will be $74.96 each plus shipping. Standard and Pro editions can be combined for discount pricing. Pro editions are $179.95 or 2-9 quantity for $134.96 (plus shipping).Published in the August 2010 issue of the NightTimes