SkyMap Pro 9
This page describes in detail the new features in SkyMap Pro 9, and will be of particular interest to existing users of older versions of the program.
The part of the sky below the horizon can now optionally be shaded with a different colour to indicate that this part of the sky is "invisible". This is a very useful addition to the capabilities of SkyMap as a "planetarium", especially for novice users, who often find the idea of a "transparent" horizon confusing.
SkyMap now has standard "Print Preview" and "Print Setup" items on the "File" menu. Print Preview permits you to see a "preview" of what a printed map will look like before printing it, while "Print Setup" provides access to the standard printer setup dialog and permits you, for example, to switch between "portrait" and "landscape" paper orientations.
SkyMap now has a built-in picture viewer, rather than using an external program for this purpose. This means that when a picture of an object is viewed, the picture appears in a window within the SkyMap application. This is especially convenient when running SkyMap on a fairly low-resolution screen which may not easily allow the SkyMap window and another application to be viewed simultaneously.
Right clicking on an object on the star chart can now optionally display a "Picture of..." menu item allowing you to directly view a picture of the object, rather than having to display the object's information dialog and view the picture from there. This is a great "time saver" for those who like looking at pictures. This capability can be turned on or off via an option on the general preferences dialog.
The number of pictures supplied with SkyMap has been almost doubled, and the program is now supplied with a complete collection of pictures of Messier objects, as well as many others. All these pictures have been taken by amateur astronomers and give an excellent example of the results that can achieved with relatively low-cost equipment.
Previous versions of SkyMap had the ability to save the map as a picture in Windows "BMP" format. This capability has now been greatly expanded with the ability to save images in many different formats such as JPEG, PNG, BMP, or TIFF.
There is now an "eclipse search" feature allowing you to search for all the eclipses visible from the current location over a specified range of years. You can choose whether to search for solar eclipses, lunar eclipses, or both, and a range of "filtering" options can be applied such as ignoring penumbral lunar eclipses, or displaying only total and annular eclipses. When the results are displayed, various items of information are shown for each eclipse, such as the date and time, the maximum magnitude, and the duration of the total or partial phases. For any eclipse in the results list, you can then display local circumstances of the eclipse, display an eclipse map (for a solar eclipse), or set the map to the time of the eclipse. The results list is stored in a file and can be redisplayed without having to repeat the search.
When setting the RA and Dec coordinates of the map centre, as well as the previous option of using the "epoch of date" for the current map date and time, there is now also the option of using coordinates for a "standard epoch" such as "J2000.0" or "B1950.0". This is a useful capability when looking for objects on the map whose coordinates are supplied for a standard epoch.
A "Goto" button has been added to the "Precess Coordinates" dialog, allowing the map coordinates to be directly set to the result of a coordinate precession calculation.
A new "Visibility Report" has been added to the "Tools" menu. This displays a paragraph of textual information about each of the Sun, Moon, and planets, describing for each one the current visibility, together with useful information about the magnitude, diameter and (where appropriate) phase. This is a useful "quick reference" guide for quickly seeing which planets are currently visible.
A "Date Conversion" tool has been added to the "Tools" menu, giving the capability of converting between calendar dates and Julian day numbers. This is a useful utility because the times of many astronomical phenomena (for example, the times of minima of "eclipsing binary" star systems) are conventionally published in the form of Julian day numbers. The map date and time can optionally be set to the result of a date conversion.
A new keyboard shortcut (by default the "F6" function key) now sets the input focus to the "General Search" box on the toolbar. This is a simple addition, but extremely useful since it permits you to search for objects using only the keyboard (eg <F6>M31<Enter> will locate M31) rather than having to click on the toolbar with the mouse and then type the name of the object to be located.
In all the parts of SkyMap which involve searching for objects, a prefix of "NGC" will be assumed for any object name entered without a catalog designation. Eg entering "891" will search for "NGC 891", and "337A" will search for "NGC 337A". This not only makes the search facilities more consistent with the star charts (on which NGC objects are displayed without a prefix), but also provides a useful shortcut, since NGC objects are among the most common objects searched for.
New status bar information panel options have been added, permitting the display of the map UTC date and time, the Julian day number, and the local sidereal time.
The time toolbar present in earlier versions of SkyMap has been replaced by a new toolbar offering simple "animation" capabilities. Previously it was possible to define a time increment by which the map time would be moved forwards or backwards when the appropriate toolbar buttons were pressed, but there was no way to "automate" this process. A simple animation capability has now been added, providing the ability to automatically move the map time forwards or backwards at a specified "real time" interval. Eg, you can say "every 2 seconds, move the map time forward by 10 minutes". This has a whole host of uses, ranging from watching satellites rotate around planets to watching the progress of eclipses to searching for particular events.
If the map time is moved forwards or backwards by holding down the appropriate key on the keyboard, the map will be redrawn as quickly as the computer permits, but previously the status bar wouldn't be updated until the keyboard key was finally released. When using this very useful "pseudo-animation" technique, therefore, you couldn't watch the map time status bar indicator to see how far into the future or past you'd gone. Now, the status bar is redrawn whenever the map is updated, meaning that if the map is updated quickly, the status bar indicators will always remain "in synch" with it.
If you right click on an object on the map and select "Centre" from the pop-up menu, previously the map would always be reset to its default orientation. This no longer occurs.
When right clicking on the map to display information about an object, the "About <Object>..." menu item only appears if you click close to the centre of an object. For large, irregularly-shaped objects such as nebulae, it can be difficult to locate the correct place to click to display the "About..." menu item. To aid in this process, pressing the <Tab> key on the keyboard now positions the search target marker on the map in the centre of the object closest to the mouse pointer, thus providing visual feedback on where to position the mouse. Repeatedly pressing <Tab> moves the target marker to each deep sky object in turn, in order of increasing distance from the mouse pointer position.
Searching for an object using any of the items on the "Search" menu now appends the name of the object searched for to the "history list" of the "Quick Search" box on the toolbar. This makes it easy to quickly repeat the search using the quick search toolbar list rather than having to go back through the search menu. This is especially useful when searching for comets and asteroids.
The program's "colour mode" - normal, "night vision", or "black and white", is now retained between runs of SkyMap, and is automatically retained when the program is next run. Eg, if you're in "night vision" mode and you shut down SkyMap, it will automatically switch back to night vision mode when next run.
A "short cut" method has been added to ease the task of creating large target lists of unrelated objects. You can now create a text file listing one object name per line, and SkyMap will "import" the text file into the target list, searching for each object in turn, and automatically providing the correct object type for it, if it's located. This provides an extremely rapid way of creating target lists of "random" objects; previously the only way to do this was to search for each object in turn, and add them one by one to the target list.
A floating "Map Key" (or "Legend", if you prefer) window can now optionally be displayed, providing an explanation of the symbols used on the map. This is primarily of interest to novice users of the program. The information displayed is very similar to that displayed at the bottom of a printed star chart.
The ability of the program to display object tracks has been greatly improved. Tracks can now be labelled at intervals shorter than 1 day (useful for very rapidly-moving objects), and a number of new track labelling options have been added.
A new "target list tour" floating window can optionally be displayed, providing quick access to the objects in the current target list. Using this window you can move backwards and forwards through the target list, locate any object on the star chart, mark any object as "observed" or "not observed", display information about the object, or query the observing log for previous observations of the object.
Previously, the dark limb of the Moon was (if drawn) always displayed in the same colour as the illuminated limb, but with a dotted line. A new "Moon dark limb" colour option has been added, allowing you to choose separate colours for the bright and dark limbs of the Moon. This is especially useful for watching occultation disappearances or reappearances at the Moon's dark limb.
The drawing of the Moon on the star chart has been improved. Previously, the Moon was always drawn as a 36-sided polygon, and this meant that the individual "line segments" making up the polygon could become visible if the map was zoomed in so the Moon filled the screen. Now, the polygon is "smoothed out" as you zoom in, so it always appears as a curve. Another improvement is that the Moon will be drawn on the map even if its centre is off the map; previously, the limb would disappear if the centre went off the map. Both of these improvements are valuable for watching occultations.
When adding an eyepiece or finder field of view circle to the star chart, the initial "dragable" circle which can be moved around the map now displays a small cross marking its centre. This makes it easy to accurately align the circle on a particular object on the star chart. The cross disappears when the circle is finally added to the chart.
The "Daily Events" dialog has been re-written and significantly enhanced. You can now move backwards or forwards a day at a time, choose which information is displayed, and set the map time to the time of any particular event. This makes it easy, for example, to set the map to the time of sunset, or the end of astronomical twilight.
Display of "local hour angle" for an object has been added to all the object information dialogs. This item of information is useful when using some types of setting circle, and is also of interest in celestial navigation calculations.
The "Dataprep" data catalog preparation tool supplied with SkyMap has been enhanced to permit its use with catalogs that specify object RA in the form of decimal degrees.
If an object in an external data catalog now has no magnitude information associated with it, SkyMap will always display that object when the catalog is "active". This is a change in behaviour from previous versions of the program, where the only way to display such an object was the switch off SkyMap's deep sky magnitude filter.
When a "zoomed in" view of Jupiter is shown, the planet is now drawn with belts and zones, and the "Great Red Spot" is correctly positioned. Because the GRS drifts slowly and randomly in longitude around Jupiter, a new page on the Planet Configuration Dialog allows its current longitude to be entered.
Eclipses and shadow transits of Jupiter's Galilean satellites are now correctly displayed. Previously, these phenomena were not shown.
A new "Jupiter event search" facility allows you to search for Galilean satellite phenomena (transits, shadow transits, occultations, and eclipses) and times of transit of the Great Red Spot. The map time can be set to the time of any event, and the event list can optionally be saved as a data table for future reference.
The current star limiting magnitude is now available as a "parameter" to be passed to external programs or URLs via the "add in" facility.
Deep sky objects normally have more than one name, and different people prefer to use different catalog designations. The deep sky dialog now has a "preference list" of catalog prefixes allowing you to determine which designation SkyMap will use as its "preferred name" for a deep sky object.
Previous versions of SkyMap used an "Access" format database for the program's observing log and "object notes" facilities. This has been replaced with a built-in database, thus removing the dependence on external database support files which caused a great many support problems. A data import tool is supplied with the program allowing observing log entries to be imported into the new database from the Access database used by older versions of SkyMap. The performance of the new database is significantly better than that of the old one.