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Personally Developed Astro Cartography

art DIY
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#1 macpurity


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Posted 13 August 2014 - 02:16 PM

Warning: Nerdy, computer mapping stuff ahead!


One can't help but appreciate how much we, today, enjoy the benefit of tremendously powerful astro charting options, available on platforms from smart phones to desktop computers.


All the while, my curiosity has grown to ask whether any of the CN community writes their own charting software? It might be valuable to share processes (i.e., language used, input data sources, symbol choices etc) understanding that this work doesn't happen over night, but through a labor of love that may take decades to mature. Maybe this has all been discussed before on CN -- if so, please offer a link.


Are there are any "amateur Will Tiiron's" out there? This thread might be a good place to share what you have developed and to provide examples of your work. This is why I selected the topic-tag "art," it really qualifies as cartographic art, and Tirion has set the bar pretty high.


I'll give it a start.


For fun, I routinely make charts via a UNIX-based graphics/plotting system using a variety (numbering a dozen or so, all freely available) of celestial catalogues, including UCAC4. The Generic Mapping Tools (GMT, available for free) is very efficient for this, but learning how to compose the commands to get what you want might take a while. A lot of information is packed into every GMT command.


GMT produces postscript output, so resolution is never an issue. Output is easily converted to PDF, jpg, png or whatever. One could create their own customized atlas.


My system is called starmap3, and I have to say, it is not easily transportable. I suppose I could build it such to make it so. The starmap3 script consists of 256 UNIX/GMT commands (including blank lines). I've even created software ties to JPL's DE421 planetary ephemeris software, running locally, in order to produce detailed planetary paths, which I find helpful for observing planning.


When the Gaia mission is complete, I'll replace the UCAC4 catalog with the Gaia catalog, but that level of detail may break my system! I also use the Washington Double Star catalog (which I update when the mood strikes); the Bright Star catalog; various DSO catalogs, constellation boundaries and coordinates for the ecliptic and galactic equator. I've not gotten as sophisticated to include nebula boundaries. So far, DSO are plotted via various colored symbols with sizes regulated by their visual magnitudes. Stars are plotted by magnitudes, too, in two ways: a fixed magnitude scale or by relative magnitudes, based on stars within the chart boundaries. UCAC4 stars are plotted in gray.


For my use, I only run my scripts when I really need to chart-out something in detail; I haven't taken the time to create a full-blown atlas. Besides, as high-detail atlas, I really like José Torres' PDF atlas. Input to starmap3 are chart boundaries and some logic switches to turn on/off specific catalogs. At this point, the input is hard coded, but it wouldn't be hard to turn the script in a form with user input on the command line.


Here is a link to an example from the region of the Coathanger (Brocchi's Cluster, CR 399).


Of course, all charting is almost moot with the advent of some great smart-device apps (e.g., SkySafari, etc.), but it's still fun to tinker with! Cheers!



#2 Mark9473


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Posted 21 August 2014 - 08:57 AM

That's an insanely deep map. What exactly are you doing with it?

#3 macpurity


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Posted 22 August 2014 - 01:04 PM

I use these charts in a variety of ways:

  1. Preparing for a public observing sessions. I'll print planetary path charts (using the JPL ephemeris) to help me pre-plan and determine what stars/DSOs might be nearby to the planet. People always ooh and aah at the planet, itself, but if you tell them to check out that double star just to the left/right of the planet, then it's extra interesting for them. It shows the hobby has more depth than simply observing rings and moons.
  2. Post observing. I often will spot something while noodling around the skies, then later I'll do the research. Example, a couple days ago, I was observing between Cebalrai and Rasalhague (beta and alpha Oph) and came across the open cluster, IC 4665, which I'd never known about, before. A close-up chart told me, later, that I should have been looking for a couple of interesting double stars. Next time I'm out, I'll look again. So these charts help me learn more about lesser-known objects involving actual observing (in contrast to simply reading a book).
  3. Useful for determining the orientation of astrophotos. Gives all the needed detail which often appears in the photos.

These are just a handful of applications. Once I set the boundaries of the chart, the system takes a only matter of seconds to form a postscript and PDF plot. From there I can study it (by zooming in/out) and print it, if desired.

#4 karstenkoch



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Posted 03 September 2014 - 05:52 PM

Do you have any plans to produce an all-sky sets of charts?

#5 prichardson


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Posted 05 September 2014 - 01:08 PM

I touched briefly on this using GIS (ArcMap).  I got the SAO catalog and some constellation boundaries loaded, but no time to do more.

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