SOFTWARE AND TOOLSHere are a list of very useful software, apps and tools for the amateur astronomer.
These are in the collowing categories:
»Follow the International Space Station
Software and Tools
LunarPhase Pro is an interactive Moon Atlas designed to help you learn about the Moon but also assist you when outside observing the Moon. When first opening the program LunarPhase Pro displays the current phase of the Moon. Other features include a calendar of Moon phases month by month along with the ability to plan your observing sessions by panning across the surface of the Moon and highlighting features to find them later or during your Lunar observing session
LunarPhase Pro is very easy to learn and use. It's simple, yet powerful features will provide you with the information you require to make your Moon observing sessions more fun!
LunarPhase Pro has been built and designed around observers and their suggestions the developer has received. If you have any queries, comments or suggestions just drop the developer an email who will respond usually quite quickly.
Helio program is freeware and includes the following features:
• Determine the solar position (RA, Dec, altitude and azimuth) and solar parameters (Bo, Lo, P, apparent diameter and Carrington rotation of the central meridian) for a given date and time, and observer latitude and longitude.
• Select the orientation of the solar disk (including equatorial and altazimuth).
• Display the central meridian, solar equator, latitude lines and longitude lines.
• Input or select the position of a sunspot directly on the solar disk.
• Calculate the sunspot latitude and longitude.
• Input the sunspot size and calculate the sunspot area (in millionths of a solar hemisphere).
• Display the Carrington Rotation number at the location of the sunspot.
• Track a sunspot across the disk and from one rotation to the next (or previous) using either Carrington or differential rotation rates.
• Produce a log file for sunspot measurements.
Another online interactive Solar site is Helio Viewer
Polaris does not lie exactly in the position of the north celestial pole. It is located approximately 45 arcminutes (3/4 degree) from the true pole. This means you should not place Polaris in the center of the polarscope of the equatorial mount. A polarscope will contain a Polaris circle to indicate the correct distance Polaris should be from the pole.
You have the Polaris circle but how do you know where on the Polaris circle should you place Polaris? Setting the location of Polaris on the Polaris circle is dictated by date and time. If your mount does not provide you with Date and Time and or Hour Angle, don't fear there is Polar Finder 204 available.
PolarFinder v2.04 displays between 2-6 hourly views of a polar finderscope which displays the Polaris circle along with the correct placement of Polaris on the Polaris circle. Using this free application allows you to setup your equatorial mount to be polar aligned within the northern hemisphere.
More information about the application can be found here
Stellarium creates fairly realistic views of the sky. The basic program has over 600,000 stars (roughly up to magnitude 9.9) with another 240 million available as add-ons. This is the only free program that shows constellation groupings for other cultures.
The zoom in shows actual images of planets and some deep space objects.
Stellarium provides many visual effects, including the Milky Way, twinkling stars, shooting stars, clouds, and light pollution. Several landscapes are included.
The telescope control plug in allows Stellarium to control a computerised telescope. The Satellites plug in calculates and renders satellites in Earth orbit from NORAD/TLE data.
Its catalog is weak in comets and asteroids.
Cartes du Ciel
This program enables you to draw sky charts, making use of the data in many catalogs of stars and nebulae. In addition the position of planets, asteroids and comets are shown.
The purpose of this program is to prepare different sky maps for a particular observation. A large number of parameters help you to choose specifically or automatically which catalogs to use, the colour and the dimension of stars and nebulae, the representation of planets, the display of labels and coordinate grids, the superposition of pictures, the condition of visibility and more. All these features make this celestial atlas more complete than a conventional planetarium.
SkyTools Starter Edition
Sky Tools is for beginner observers using binoculars and small telescopes (apertures up to 4.5-inches or 120 mm). It help by appraising the sky conditions, selecting the best objects to see and then showing you where to find them in the sky.
The Starter Edition comes with a 100+ page observing guide and handbook written by an astronomy educator and lifelong observer.
If you are a planetary imager (Planets, Moon and Sun), either beginner or amateur you will probably be using a webcam. A webcam is typically used as a video camera like a webcam can take many frames per second which is important when imaging through our turbulent atmosphere.
Using a high frame rate video camera will capture the poor seeing but it will also capture the good moments of seeing where the atmosphere becomes more stable for fractions of seconds. We are interested in capturing the good moments of seeing to obtain a good image of our planetary object.
Below are some links of Webcam capture software
When using webcams as discussed previously, these high frame cameras capture images of good and bad seeing. We want to remove the frames which were captured during the bad seeing and leave the frames captured during the moments of good seeing. The below software allows you to carry out this very activity. Simply load a video captured with a webcam of the Sun, Moon or planet. Scan through the video and identify a frame that you feel looks good. Once you have chosen a frame which appears good, set this as your alignment image. Your alignment image will be used as a reference point for the software to match all the other frames against to help identify the good and bad frames.
Once the software has identified the good frames, you can usually scan through these and double check before committing frames identified as good to produce a final stacked image.
See below some software which is free to download. These vary in their methods to process captured videos but ultimately the principles are still the same.
A very simple application to use with minimal but powerful features.
AviStack was developed to process lunar images, but, it also works well with solar and planetary images. AviStack as the website reports, works faster than Registax to process videos but there are more steps to go through to obtain the final stacked image.
Even more basic application but still very powerful.
Capturing images of planets is the easy part, the complications begin after the image stacking when carrying out the post processing. The skill comes from being able to get to grips and understand how these post processing pieces of software work and how to get the most out of them.
When imaging any of the planets, they rotate just like the Earth, WinJUPOS is designed to help remove rotation problems. If you are imaging Jupiter over one evening and you are recording videos longer than 3 minutes, features on the disk will shift and change. If you use a colour camera you probably won't notice this issue. If you use a mono camera with RGB filters, then you will capture video spanning at least 10 minutes, enough time for image shift/rotation effects to occur.
Microsoft Image Composite Editor is an advanced panoramic image stitcher. Designed ideally for use with stiching landscape images together to create a panorama. When capturing the images, these must have areas which overlap with the previous image. Microsoft ICE looks for these overlapping areas of the images submitted to accurately stich and merge together.
Microsoft ICE works well with Solar and Lunar imaging. When imaging the Moon or Sun, you will most likely not be able to fit the entire face of the object within one field of view. A number of images will have to be taken, to capture the entire surface. This process is termed mosque imaging, taking a number of images to make one complete image.
Once the mosque of images have been captured, these can simply be added to Microsoft ICE which will automatically merge the images together to create one image. Adobe Photoshop offers the same feature, sometimes Microsoft ICE can perform better than Adobe Photoshop to complete successful merge of images. Videos can also be imported to create a stiched or panoramic image.
Adobe Photoshop is an all-round photo editing and processing software to bring out and fine tune those images captured using some or all of the software listed in this section. Adobe Photoshop uses layers to build up images and to improve their look. Simple sharpen, adjust shadows and highlights to adjust colour balances.
A free online version of photoshop can be found at ToolPic or PhotoshopOnlineFree
Celestia is a space travel simulator. You can travel throughout the solar system, to any of over 100,000 stars, or even beyond the galaxy. There are add ins to expand the catalogs and images of comets, stars, solar system objects, and deep space objects. You can even add in fictional objects such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5, etc.
This is a fun way to view many of the objects themselves. There are images of many solar system objects, e.g. Deimos and Ceres.
As this is a simulator and not a planetarium program, Celestia does not indicate constellations, have telescope controls, or have a method for pointing to a specific location, e.g. RA 02:31:49.09 dec +89:15:50.8. (Not intended as a criticism - just an observation.)
Orbiter is a fun interplanetary space ship simulator which obeys the laws of physics. You can launch from nearly anywhere in the solar system and fly to nearly anywhere else.
There are many ships available (both historical and fictional). You select your ship, space port and destination. There is a cockpit with three displays (an open screen view, instrumentation, and a heads up display projected on the forward view port.) The ship can also be viewed externally as if you're in a chase ship. The tutorials explain how to make a successful trip including how to match orbit with the destination. Be careful, you can run out of fuel (or you can cheat with an unlimited fuel suply).
You can make the trip in real time. Fortunately, a time warp shortcut can speed time up by 100,000 if you don't want to wait the three days or so it would take for a Lunar mission or months in the case of a trip to the outer planets.
The best at artificial satelites and better than most at solar system objects. However, interstellar is apparently not supported. Consequently stars and deep space objects are shown but a method of directly locating these is out of scope.
Mars Rover XPL
A strategy, puzzle exploration game explores the surface of the red planet Mars.
The year is 2028 in the future which means you will be controlling the latest generation in Mars Rovers. You will need to navigate across the surface of southern Mars, through valleys and canyons stretching 3000km in length. The game can be single player or multiplayer, in the multiplayer version you can race to complete your mission before your co-player.
FOLLOW THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION
These links provide details on when the ISS is passing, allowing you the opportunity, if clear, to go out and observe it as it goes by:
NASA Spot the Station [from Gravesend, nearest city to Medway listed on the site]
Heaven's Above [from Bredhurst]
These links will show you a map of where the ISS currently is, and what view it would be seeing of the Earth passing underneath:
ISS Astro Viewer
Celestron Sky Q