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which software is best for visual observation planning, charting and logging?

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#1 jupi10

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Posted 20 August 2018 - 07:14 AM

Hello all.

 

I'm getting back into visual observing after a break lasting about 7 years. Back in the day, software was much more limited and I would prepare observing lists beforehand from the internet, use SkyAtlas for starhopping (Or Cartes du Ciel printed maps for the fainter fuzzies) and take notes old-shool in a notebook. I own a 12.5" dob and enjoy DSO hunting the most. What do you guys use today?

 

I've recently started using my laptop with Stellarium for a summer binocular tour of the sky as a way to get back in the game. It's great for that purpose but has obvious limitations for anything more serious.

 

My question is - what do people these days use as the basic/best software for observation planning, charting and logging? Is there one program that can do all three well? I've found so many options in the links section that my head is spinning. I have a laptop that can be used at the telescope running Windows 10.

 

I've been looking at SkyTools 3 which looks great for my purposes, especially since an update is supposed to be coming. Any oppinions on this software? Is there a better alternative?

 

Thank you for any input.


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#2 Jeff Struve

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Posted 20 August 2018 - 07:39 AM

I use Stellarium for everything but logging... and when I do that I hand write in a water proof book so I can draw sketchs as well as my coments


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#3 Ed Wiley

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Posted 20 August 2018 - 09:18 AM

I use Sky Tools 3. Not cheap and very different from other planetarium programs in that it is target oriented. You create lists of targets or use the rather large number of "default" target lists. I find it very handy for all functions you mention.

 

Ed


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#4 obrazell

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Posted 20 August 2018 - 09:49 AM

I guess your main choices are SkyTools3, AstroPlanner and Deep Sky Planner 7. Of those DSP is probably the only one undergoing concrete development. We have been hearing about the upgrade to ST4 for two-three years now and  I don't think it is any nearer than the JWST launch. AstroPlanner is also not undergoing much development. The main issue with DSP is that it links to commercial star charting programs and cannot do the kind of nice finder charts that SkyTools can but the planning and logging functions are fine.

 

Owen


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#5 Dixie

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Posted 20 August 2018 - 12:53 PM

SkMap Pro 12 by Chris Marriott is still an option.  I've used it for charts, observation logging, target list generation an object visibility for a very long time.  Don't think it is still being actively developed though. 


Edited by Dixie, 20 August 2018 - 12:54 PM.


#6 ChrisGTS

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Posted 20 August 2018 - 06:18 PM

I use Astroplanner, which is great for planning and logging, and it imports and exports with SkySafari (v5, not sure about v6 since it is not available for Android yet).



#7 Steve Cox

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Posted 20 August 2018 - 08:19 PM

SkyTools is absolutely great and IMHO still the best for what you want even if Greg never gets ST4 released. I run the Pro edition though I'm a visual observer only, simply for the full catalogues, and it's well worth the money.


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#8 Eskil

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Posted 21 August 2018 - 02:54 AM

I use Astroplanner, which is great for planning and logging, and it imports and exports with SkySafari (v5, not sure about v6 since it is not available for Android yet).

AstroPlanner works really well both standalone and with SkySafari v6 as well.

 

Perhaps not extreme development pace at the moment but the developer is active in the Yahoo group and continuously makes bug fixes. Find it to be an excellent software. I have heard rumours regarding a bit of crash issue with the Windows 2.3 alphas though. At my Mac the 2.3 alphas are stable and the obvious choice to use.

 

/Eskil



#9 dongallo

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Posted 21 August 2018 - 06:32 AM

Hi Jupi10,

 

I have similar interest as you. I have a good sized dob and just use my two eyes. I use software to pre-plan my starry night out, for locating objects, and logging. I consider myself a serious deepsky observer and demand software plot and has good info on object beyond the NGC/IC catalogs. You know Barnard, melotte, collinder, king, abell, PK, and the like.

I own Starry Night 7 Pro Plus. TheSky X Pro, Deepsky Planner 7, and Skytools 3 Pro.

Starry Night has a very poor deepsky database. Yeah it plots all kings, melottes and others but provides poor data on them. Knowing object size is essential to deep sky observing. Melotte 111 is a large bright cluster in Coma Berenices that is easily visible in binoculars in New York City. It is 120 minutes in size. Starry Night says it is 0 minutes in size and plots a tiny symbol for it. You would be hunting for a very small obscure cluster and of course never find it with Starry Night. There are many such examples like this in Starry Night. Also the catalogs are not crossed indexed. This gives you multiple symbols for object producing hard to read charts. The deepsky database in Starry Night is just thrown in like a pile of pickup sticks. It's planning is poor and logging is very basic. Starry Night is wonderful for classrooms and cloudy nights.

TheSky X is best suited for serious astrophotographers with robotic telescopes and observatories. It does have a great deepsky database and excellent charts. The planning is decent but not like Skytools and DeepSky Planner. Logging is very basic and I haven't discovered a way to export the logs. They are probably in a .txt file in TheSky's support folder where it keeps its settings. Not a great program for generating a report of Herschel 400 logs to submit to the AL for your certificate. At $350 there are better and cheaper software for those of us with two eyes and a dob.

Deepsky Planner 7 is ok for planning. One thing I hate about it is how it sorts objects so you know which objects to view first before they get too low. It will have an object that sets at 00:25 before 20:45 because 00 is smaller number than 20. It has no concept of time when sorting. Logging is excellent. It has no charting, so you will need to have CDC, TheSky X or Starry Night installed for charting. 

Skytools 3 is the best period. It has the best and most complete planning features. Unlike DeepSky Planner, Skytools sorts object correctly by time. The logging is second to none. Charts are excellent especially for star hopping. DeepSky database is the most complete and accurate out of any software I have seen. Contrary to the above post, it is very much still under development. Skytools 4 is currently being actively beta tested. It will be out within the year. One major drawback. Skytools 3 charts do not display properly on modern high resolution laptops. You have lower the resolution to fix this. Skytools 4 fixes this.

With all the software I own, 90% of the time I just use SkySafari Pro 6 on my phone. It has a great deepsky database, good enough planning, excellent logging and fantastic charting. Sad there isn't a Windows version. If so it would be the most well rounded program with less glaring downsides as the above mentioned.


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#10 knightware

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Posted 21 August 2018 - 04:29 PM

 

Deepsky Planner 7 is ok for planning. One thing I hate about it is how it sorts objects so you know which objects to view first before they get too low. It will have an object that sets at 00:25 before 20:45 because 00 is smaller number than 20. It has no concept of time when sorting. Logging is excellent. It has no charting, so you will need to have CDC, TheSky X or Starry Night installed for charting.

This is not true. You can sort an observing plan by 'Best Time'. This runs an algorithm that gives greater weight to objects about to set in the west than those higher in the sky. It also takes astronomical darkness into account when calculating the best time to observe. Further, the algorithm can be applied continuously on an observing plan while you observe so that you always know what to observe next (especially if you filter out objects already observed from display).

 

- Phyllis Lang, Author Deep-Sky Planner


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#11 dongallo

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Posted 21 August 2018 - 04:56 PM

Phyllis is this the Best Alt Column? If so this resolves the complaint. 



#12 knightware

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Posted 21 August 2018 - 05:09 PM

Yes, as regards the Observing Plan document. There's more to it if you are using the Deep-Sky Search document, but that's all you need to do for Observing Plan docs.



#13 Ed Wiley

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Posted 22 August 2018 - 09:36 PM

I also use Deep Sky Planner 7, its a valuable tool to use in conjunction with Sky Tools. Its especially good if you are planning a series of different targets for any one night.

Ed



#14 jupi10

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Posted 23 August 2018 - 08:00 AM

Thank you everyone for your excellent responses!

 

Based on your responses, some research and looking at the demo, I think I will purchase SkyTools 3 and take it from there. I downloaded the demo version of the Basic package and see that even in that format the planning aspect is excellent. I do not expect any problems with planning.

 

Regarding charting, the eyepiece views looks wonderful. I have quite some reservations about the naked eye and finder charts. The stars are not different enough in size to make their magnitutes obvious at first glance. It's also slow to change zoom, at least on my computer and does not have much in terms of customization. Maybe that's an issue of the demo version, I don't know. If I am not satisfied with the charting aspect (maybe I am not used to the way it does things?), I can always keep Stellarium for that and jump to the eyepiece view when needed.

 

The demo does not include the logging function which is also very important to me. I hope it is of good quality.

 

I am excited to try out the software, and it's funny that I am excited about a program that is nearly 10 years old :-) I always enjoyed researching objects beforehand, but must admit that having to do so for hours before each session was a hassle. I can always still manually research a few "special objects" and use the software for the other stuff.

 

Thank you again! It is good to be back :)


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#15 S.Boerner

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Posted 23 August 2018 - 08:27 AM

I'm with dongallo except it is SkySafari Pro 5 on an Android tablet.  I'll add that creating skylists during the daytime is a great way to speed up target hopping at night.  Logging is good although typing with an on screen keyboard is less that perfect.  I can get around that by using a USB keyboard/mouse with my tablet.  Another benefit is that I get wireless scope control with bluetooth and SkySafari.    It is also possible to run SkySafari with a Windows Android emulator.  The only thing missing there is that bluetooth scope control isn't enabled.   SkySafari can be configured to use Google drive so all your config files and skylists (where the observations are kept) can be shared between the emulator and phone/tablet. 

 



With all the software I own, 90% of the time I just use SkySafari Pro 6 on my phone. It has a great deepsky database, good enough planning, excellent logging and fantastic charting. Sad there isn't a Windows version. If so it would be the most well rounded program with less glaring downsides as the above mentioned.



#16 Aeternam

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Posted 24 August 2018 - 02:05 AM

Jupi you made the right choice. Regarding your comment on the naked eye and overhead sky views:

 

- You can add mag labels to the star names, this is done in the view settings. Each view can be changed individually, the selected view has a red highlighting border. As an example, you could add mag labels to the overview and to the eyepiece views and not have them on the finderscope view. You could also change the star appearance to a more traditional looking catalog-style, but that mode is a bit too trippy for my taste.

 

- Don't forget about the interactive atlas (hit 'A' while having an object selected). Of all the charts I find that one the most interesting if I want to find my way around an area of the sky.

 

Make sure you take some time to learn the software. The tutorials on the Skyhound website are extremely helpful in that regard.



#17 halx

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Posted 24 August 2018 - 02:22 PM

Consider moving from a laptop to a handheld. That's the most modern trend. I'm using handheld digital star charts for close to 2 decades already. For the past decade (since 2009) - exactly for the visual DSO observing with 12" dob exclusively using just one app on the 5.6" screen Android smartphone for everything from planning, pointing, and identification to observations logging and bookkeeping (Not SkyTools but it's been an inspiration). A laptop is simply ruining the experience as it's bulky, blinding, and power hungry. 


Edited by halx, 24 August 2018 - 06:11 PM.


#18 semiosteve

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Posted 24 August 2018 - 04:44 PM

Skytools is brilliant. I know everyone is obsessed with Skysafari, and I have it as well. But for VIsual work, Skytools is invaluable. I've all versions since it came out, and as posted earlier, even if it is never developed further it doesn't matter.

 

In fact I just picked up a Lenova Thinkpad table just so I could use Skytools up on the ladder when I am observing with my big dob - or on the observatory floor at times when I am using my AP Starfire.

 

The eyepiece views and interactive atlas are fantastic. I have made them consistent in look and feel with Interstellarum.The stars and views are highly configurable so you can get just the right look and feel for naked eye, atlas, finder and eyepiece. I can literally duplicate what I see in the EP very closely - making it much easier to find the faint and improbable objects near the edge of visibility for any given night.

 

I do it all with Skytools, planning, targeting, goto, logging, map creation, list creation, event simulation, calendar creation, research, etc.

 

Bottom line is there are EP's and scopes you will keep forever, for me Skytools is the app I will keep forever.


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#19 halx

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Posted 24 August 2018 - 06:14 PM

I hate Skysafari. And not because I'm a "competing vendor" grin.gif but because I saw Skytools.


Edited by halx, 24 August 2018 - 06:16 PM.

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#20 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 24 August 2018 - 11:11 PM

These days I use three different pieces of software, Sky Safari 5 Pro,  Sky Tools 3 and Cartes du Ciel.  The two later are on my desktop so I dont even have them with me on my 7-14 day monthly sessions up in the high desert.  Between Sky Safari and the internet, my needs are met .

 

In the city,  I mostly use my smartphone.  Under dark skies , I use a 7 inch Android Nexus 7 (2013) tablet . It fits in my coat pocket so i have it with me at all times.. 

 

Jon



#21 TOMbP

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Posted 25 August 2018 - 02:27 PM

Skytools is brilliant. I know everyone is obsessed with Skysafari, and I have it as well. But for VIsual work, Skytools is invaluable. I've all versions since it came out, and as posted earlier, even if it is never developed further it doesn't matter.

 

In fact I just picked up a Lenova Thinkpad table just so I could use Skytools up on the ladder when I am observing with my big dob - or on the observatory floor at times when I am using my AP Starfire.

 

The eyepiece views and interactive atlas are fantastic. I have made them consistent in look and feel with Interstellarum.The stars and views are highly configurable so you can get just the right look and feel for naked eye, atlas, finder and eyepiece. I can literally duplicate what I see in the EP very closely - making it much easier to find the faint and improbable objects near the edge of visibility for any given night.

 

I do it all with Skytools, planning, targeting, goto, logging, map creation, list creation, event simulation, calendar creation, research, etc.

 

Bottom line is there are EP's and scopes you will keep forever, for me Skytools is the app I will keep forever.

What Lenovo tablet did you get? How well did skytools work on it?

thanks



#22 DHEB

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Posted 25 August 2018 - 02:33 PM

For planning, I use Stellarium at my desktop computer and several custom programs. At the eyepiece, I use Sky Safary 5 on a handheld device and log observations in a digital voice recorder. I later on transcribe to a custom logbook that I implemented in a portable database model, available as free and open source software ( obslog – an elementary database model for logging astronomical observations )



#23 Kyphoron

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Posted 01 September 2018 - 01:40 PM

I agree with the Skytools 3 assessment. Its a great program that none can match. I cannot wait to see Skytools 4. Skytools is a true charting, observing and logging program. Its not meant to be pretty like other programs and its just setup to be exactly what it says it is. I seriously don't think any other program as far as at your fingertips information can match what Skytools offers.


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#24 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 02 September 2018 - 07:02 PM

I agree with the Skytools 3 assessment. Its a great program that none can match. I cannot wait to see Skytools 4. Skytools is a true charting, observing and logging program. Its not meant to be pretty like other programs and its just setup to be exactly what it says it is. I seriously don't think any other program as far as at your fingertips information can match what Skytools offers.

 

I like Skytools but when I am in the field,  to be at my fingertips,  it needs to run on a 7 inch Tablet.  And i find the information SkySafari provides more useful in the field. 

 

Jon



#25 Oscar56

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Posted 05 September 2018 - 01:29 PM

I use SkyTools for planning and logging observations and SkySafari at the scope. 

 

SkyTools allows you to export observations in a variety of formats. Will SkySafari Import any of those formats?


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