Astronomy

Can someone help me to identify this section of the night sky?

Can someone help me to identify this section of the night sky?


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I have this image from a treasure hunt, I'm fairily certain it's a real piece of the sky, but I've been unable to identify it, can anyone help?


I do not believe that is the real sky. The rings of Saturn are not that large with the naked eye. I am not sure what the other formation is either. Perhaps some one else could shed better information about the picture.


It doesn't seem to be real, moreover, as the other user has said, the rings of Saturn are not visible with the naked eyes. It is merely seen a dot. I think you need a minimum of 30x magnification to see the rings.


I've just submitted a cropped section to Astrometry.net (that's astrometry, not astronomy). Click the "web" to upload an image and start the search, then take some time to read How (the heck) does Astrometry.net work? while waiting for it to compute…

No quick solution. That doesn't mean that this isn't real, it's just that the first attempt didn't succeed.

better luck next year!


The Best Mobile Apps for Spotting and Identifying Orbiting Satellites and Iridium Flares

If you spend time gazing at the stars on a clear night, you're guaranteed to see a satellite or two passing among them. But how do know whether that's a spent rocket booster, the Hubble Space Telescope or a crewed space station gliding silently overhead? And what was that momentary flash of light? Was it a meteor, or the glint from a shiny satellite?

Satellite-focused mobile apps are the best tools for tracking the myriad satellites that are visible with unaided eyes. They can help you tell one satellite from another, as well as alert you when a popular human-made object is about to appear in the night sky and then show you exactly where to look for it.

Iridium flares are very bright glints of sunlight off of the flat, reflecting sides of one of the satellites that constitute the Iridium pager and sat-phone networks. The flares occur before dawn and after dusk, when the satellite passing overhead is still illuminated by the sun, which is below the horizon for observers on the ground. The duration and brightness depend on the angles between the observer, the satellite and the sun. The better flares outshine everything but the moon and last about 5 seconds. Dedicated apps are an ideal way to find out when these flares will happen at your location.

In an earlier edition of Mobile Astronomy, we looked at where satellites orbit and why we can see theml. The most useful satellite apps utilize your device's compass and gyroscope in real time to guide you where to look in the sky for satellites or flares &mdash a necessity when sharing the fun of satellite watching at star parties. In this edition of Mobile Astronomy, we'll highlight two of the best apps for spotting these artificial denizens of the night sky. One of them, a new app called Orbitrack, now offers an immersive virtual-reality view of the sky and voice commands to assist in your hunt! [Iridium Flare Gleams Above the Isaac Newton Telescope on Its 50th Anniversary]


Can someone help me to identify this section of the night sky? - Astronomy

&ldquoAtlas of the Southern Night Sky&rdquo by Steve Massey and Steve Quirk, 2007, published by New Holland Publishers (Australia). RRP $45

I am a newcomer to the fascination of amateur astronomy, having had my own telescope for about 8 months. I am interested in finding the best tools to help me find my way around the sky and to identify what to look for in the vast expanse available up there. I have no connection to the authors or publishers of this book.

&ldquoAtlas of the Southern Night Sky&rdquo by Steve Massey and Steve Quirk, is a great introduction to the night sky for those of us with limited experience. This is a beautifully presented volume at a very modest price, logically laid out and easy to use. The book is written in a clear and succinct style.

Introductory Chapters

There is a useful introduction, which covers measuring the night sky, the nature of stars and some background to deep sky objects (DSOs) such as nebulae, clusters and galaxies. These clear, brief notes provide a very effective introduction and there are also some useful tips on observing. The authors have left descriptions of the moon and planets to the latter part of the book, presumably as these do not figure in the maps that comprise the bulk of the work.

The first eight maps are wide field views of the night sky, two of the celestial polar regions and six around the celestial equator. Since the maps are laid out according to celestial coordinates, they don&rsquot reflect the orientation of the sky to the horizon, as a seasonally adjusted map or planisphere does. For a beginner like myself, this required a bit of mental gymnastics and the concomitant use of seasonal sky charts until I got the hang of it.

Most of the maps are full-page charts of individual constellations with their neighbours for orientation. I found this to be the most useful section of the atlas, as on the page facing each constellation map is a list of about five to eight interesting deep space objects to look for. These include multiple stars, clusters, nebulae and galaxies and each is accompanied by a brief description and some information about the object. The notes include beautiful images of some of the objects described. The authors point out in the introduction that they have avoided overly complicated charts by focusing on more readily visible objects. In this regard, I think they have succeeded admirably. For many constellations, there is a supplementary listing of a few additional notable objects without further elaboration. The objects listed are clearly marked on the maps with different symbols for each type of object.

The individual constellation charts very easy to use at the telescope under red light and the scale, simplicity and layout of the maps make finding many DSOs fairly easy. The only problem that I have is that the Latin constellation names that form the heading for each map is printed in a red ink which shows up very poorly under a red light.

The Solar System and Other Chapters

After the maps, the authors provide an introduction to the solar system. I have not been much of a moon watcher, basically because I have had little knowledge to help me understand the visible features of the moon. The brief explanations in this book&rsquos section on the moon have piqued my interest significantly. The planets themselves, asteroids, meteor showers, trans-Neptunian objects and comets are covered well. Generally, I found the whole section on the solar system engaging, readable and interesting. I did find however that the sections on the phases of the inner planets and also on retrograde motion took a bit of following and may have benefited from more elaboration.

The book concludes with brief chapters on equipment and also astro-imaging. These are very basic, but useful for someone just dipping their toes into the vast ocean of astronomic interest.

In conclusion, I found this book to be very readable and a useful introduction to the basics of astronomical observing. It includes some beautiful photography and clear graphics. Moreover, I have found it to be a very helpful tool for finding treasures to behold in the night sky and I can recommend it highly for those in the early stages of astronomical obsession.


Exploring the Sky

As your student begins to look skyward and ask questions, take them in one hand and this book in the other! With this book, an assortment of ordinary household things, binoculars or a telescope, and lots of time you can teach a fascinating, hands-on course in beginning astronomy for an entire year. Exploring the Sky is not a textbook. It isn't a storybook. It IS a living book guide to exploring the heavens with an interesting mix of history, biography, folklore, legend, science facts and science fiction, and even some mathematics and art. Obviously written by someone who loves the subject, Exploring the Sky makes the subject come alive.

Introducing a broad range of subjects, this book is organized into seven lengthy chapters with four topical sections each, and a total of seventy-two projects. This is hands-on, time-consuming, attention-grabbing, messy science, not read-about-it science! These sections begin with background information on the topic and at least one project, although most sections include several projects. For example, Chapter 5 is titled "Sky-Gathering Tools". Section 3 is titled "Cameras" and includes presentations on photography with a project on photographing stars and planets, the photoelectric effect, and computers with a project on showing how images are transmitted. This is followed by "Observations", critical thinking questions designed to elicit connections from the student. Often, there are suggestions for additional books to read and browse on the topic as well. Many of the suggested books have copyright dates between 1960 and 1980 and would be best located at the library. It is possible to simply dive in, choose a chapter or a section of a chapter, and begin exploring. The toughest decision is where to begin! How difficult it is to choose among constructing a sundial, demonstrating how the colors of the sky are make, experimenting with prisms, making a model of a black hole, or creating craters on Mercury.

As with all secular books on astronomy, there are references to millions of years of time, but there is no particular emphasis on evolution. Creation legends are retold from cultures as diverse as those of Babylonia, the Norsemen, Mexico, the Maori, and Greece but there is no mention of Christian teaching. Catholic children at this age level shouldn't have trouble making essential distinctions and will probably find value in contrasting this section with the book of Genesis and other sources of Catholic teaching.

This book is noted on the cover as being for "talented beginners", but it is for beginning astronomers who are middle-school-aged students and above, not beginning students in the elementary grades. Basic skill with multiplication and division, as well as the ability to use reference tables that are provided in the book, is necessary to understand some of the projects. Although there are numerous diagrams and sketches, the only thing missing is color photographs. I'm guessing that printing in black and white contributes to keeping such a valuable book so inexpensive. Thus, the only supplements that I suggest are Internet photographs (such as those on the NASA site) or books in Seymour Simon's space series.


Astronomy Clubs: Partner With NASA

Astronomy Clubs throughout the United States are invited to bring the science, technology and inspiration of NASA's missions to the general public via NASA's Night Sky Network.

Members of the Night Sky Network share their time and telescopes to provide the public with unique astronomy experiences at science museums, observatories, classrooms and under the night sky.

Applying for your amateur astronomy club's free membership in the Night Sky Network is easy and allows your club access to all of the Network's resources. Visit their website to learn more about how your club can join the Night Sky Network.

Looking for astronomy events in your area? Check out the Night Sky Network's Clubs and Events section.


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Australia's first astronomers

Astronomy didn't start with the Greeks. Thousands of years earlier Aboriginal people scanned the night sky, using its secrets to survive the Australian landscape.

The Emu in the Sky stretches across the Milky Way. (Source: Barnaby Norris)

Related Stories

During the Dreaming, a blind man lived with his wife in the bush. Every day he told his wife to go out and hunt for emu eggs for him to eat. Even though his wife tried hard to please her husband, he was always angry with her, telling her that the eggs were too small.

One day while she was out hunting, she came across some very large emu tracks. She thought of her husband and how angry he got, and followed the tracks all the way to the nest. She found a huge emu there and threw stones at it to get at the eggs, but it stood up and ran towards her and killed her.

The blind man became hungry and worried about his wife. He felt around the camp until he came across a bush with some berries on it and ate some of them. Suddenly he could see. He made some spears and a woomera and set off to find his wife. He followed her tracks and finally saw the huge emu and the body of his wife. He speared the emu and banished its spirit to the Milky Way, where it can still be seen today.
— a story from Papunya, Northern Territory

If you look up into the sky tonight, you can still spot the Emu in the Sky. You've almost certainly been looking at it all your life, but you've probably never seen it.

The Emu is stretched across one of the most familiar objects in the night sky, the Milky Way. Look closely at the the Southern Cross and you'll see its head as a dark smudge tucked near the bottom left hand corner of the constellation. Its neck passes between the two pointer stars, and its dark body stretches the length of our luminous galaxy.

The Emu in the Sky has featured in Aboriginal storytelling for thousands of years.

Many different language groups have their own interpretation of the Emu's heavenly fate, along with a rich and diverse range of stories about mallee fowl, parrots, fish, stingrays, hunters, men, women, girls and boys.

Once you hear these stories, the night sky will never look the same again. And it's not just stories you'll find — Aboriginal astronomy contains a map to understanding, surviving and living in harmony with this great southern land.

Dark patches in the skyUnlike Greek celestial tradition, which focuses almost exclusively on stars, Aboriginal astronomy focuses on the Milky Way and often incorporates the dark patches between stars.

The Emu in the Sky, a story common to many Aboriginal groups, is an example of this — its body is made up of the dark patches in the Milky Way. The Boorong people saw the same dark patches as the smoke from the fires of Nurrumbunguttias, the old spirits. The Kaurna people saw the Milky Way — called Wodliparri or hut river — as a large river where a Yura (monster) lives in the dark patches.

To the Ngarrindjeri people, the dark shape formed by the Southern Cross is the stingray Nunganari and the pointers are Ngarakani, or sharks.

First astronomers

Orion the hunter appears as Djulpan to the Yolgnu people in the Northern Territory. (Source: Ray Norris)

Aboriginal people have been described as 'the world's first astronomers'.

The Yolngu people in Arnhem Land, for example, have dreaming stories that explain tides, eclipses, the rising and setting sun and moon and the changing positions of rising stars and planets throughout the year.

In one of their stories, Walu the sun is a woman who lights her fire every morning and scatters red ochre across the clouds, creating dawn. She then carries her torch across the sky, creating daylight. At the end of the day, she descends, puts out her fire, and travels underground through the night back to her morning camp.

CSIRO astrophysicist Ray Norris has been gathering and listening to Aboriginal stories about the night sky across the country.

One of his favourites is the Yolngu story of the three brothers in a canoe in the Djulpan constellation (known in Greek mythology as Orion the Hunter). The three stars in Orion's belt are the brothers sitting side by side, with the stars Betelgeuse and Rigel marking the front and back of the canoe. The stars in Orion's nebula represent a fish, and the stars of Orion's sword mark out a fishing line trailing behind the canoe.

"I love it because it actually looks like a canoe when you see it," says Norris.

There are many stories about the Orion constellation right across Australia, and they are nearly always about a group of men hunting or fishing, says Norris. Often they are following a group of young women, represented by the stars in the Pleiades cluster in the constellation Taurus.

Surprisingly, these stories are very similar to Greek mythology, in which Orion pursues the Pleiades sisters across the sky.

Orion's nemesis, Scorpius, is also depicted as a scorpion in some Aboriginal stories.

For example, one Yolgnu story tells of Bundungu the scorpion, who is gathered with his people along the banks of the Milnguya (Milky Way) with their relatives the Baripari (quoll) and Wahk (crow).

"It's that sort of thing that fascinates me, the way that different cultures arrive at the same conclusions," says Norris.

A celestial serpent Aboriginal dreaming stories may help locate astronomical events — in time and in space — says Duane Hamacher, a PhD student from Macquarie University.

Hamacher is gathering Aboriginal stories of comets and meteors — often described as the glowing eye of a celestial serpent flying across the sky — and seeing whether he can use them in conjunction with Google maps to locate the site of previously undiscovered impact craters, like the one at Wolf Creek in Western Australia.

He has found a story about 'a star falling from the sky and causing fire, death and destruction' from a place about 100 kilometres outside of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory which seems to correspond with a large, circular structure he has found on Google maps.

"I've got my fingers crossed. When we look at it, it's heavily eroded, which suggests it's millions of years old, but still, if we were able to find an impact crater based on a dreaming story, then that's quite significant."

The sky as a calendar

Aboriginal people would have had a very practical reason for their interest in astronomy: the sky is a calendar that indicates when the seasons are shifting and when certain foods are available, says Roslynn Haynes, an associate professor at the University of New South Wales and author of Explorers of the Southern Sky, a history of Australian astronomy.

"Constellations appearing in the sky, usually at sunrise or sunset, were very important. They helped [Aboriginal people] predict what was happening in the world around them," says Haynes.

For example, at different times of the year the Emu in the Sky is oriented so it appears to be either running or sitting down. Depending upon its position people in the western desert knew it was time to hunt for emus or collect their eggs.

When Scorpius was visible in the evening sky towards the end of April people of Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria knew the wet season was over and the dry south-easterly wind marimariga would soon begin to blow.

The Boorong people in north western Victoria looked to the mallee fowl constellation, Neilloan (Lyra), to tell them when they should harvest the bird's eggs. When Neilloan appeared in the north-west sky around April, they knew the birds would be preparing their mound-like nests. The disappearance of Neilloan in late September or early October meant it was time to start gathering.

"All of these things were very important as food sources," says Haynes.

While the night sky had a very practical use for Aboriginal people, it was also valuable spiritually, as a means of reinforcing culture and community, says Haynes.

"[Objects in the sky] had stories attached to them to do with the values and morality of the community. So when constellations appeared, the stories were told and those lessons would be ingrained in the younger people."

"They were interested in the holistic view that it gave them of the world, that the heavens were as close to them as the surrounding earthly environment."

Keeping the Aboriginal night sky alive

Much of the richness of the Aboriginal night sky has already disappeared, says Norris.

"Some cultures have been so badly destroyed that it's impossible to see what's left, and you just have fragments."

Even the Yolngu people in Arnhem Land, who still perform initiation ceremonies to pass the knowledge on, are finding that Aboriginal astronomy doesn't fit easily into the 21st century world.

"It's disappearing very quickly," says Norris. "You have people who don't actually want to go to all the initiations, they'd rather go to uni."

Norris says the Yolngu people are addressing this problem, actively discussing within the community about how to keep their culture alive while still giving their children the opportunities they deserve.

Meanwhile, researchers are turning to journals and papers of early white Australians, such as explorers, missionaries and early anthropologists, as well as archaeological sites, to unearth long-forgotten records of Aboriginal astronomy.

For example, Norris and Hamacher are recording information from a rock site near Geelong in Victoria that seems to line up with the summer and winter solstices — a sort of Australian Stonehenge.

It's important to preserve these stories and artefacts as evidence of the interest the world's first astronomers had in the night sky, says Norris.

"We're all used to Aboriginal art, didgeridoo and dancing, and often people don't appreciate the depth and complexity and intellect that goes into [Aboriginal stories]."

Haynes agrees Aboriginal astronomy can help all Australians think differently about the world — in particular, to consider the intricate connections between living things and the environment.

"Ecology is a very important way of thinking about the world. In a way, that's what Aboriginal astronomy does, although it draws in the sky as well as the earth, so you have an interconnected universe."

Find out moreFor more information about the stories featured in this article please check out the following websites:


SkySafari Frequently Asked Questions

This page contains answers to the most frequently asked questions about our SkySafari Apple iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch apps.

I purchased one of your iPhone apps, but I lost my iPhone/iPad/iPod (or I bought a new one). Do I have to buy the app again?

No. Just download it again from the app store. Even if you "purchase" it again, you won't be charged. The App Store folks are very careful to make sure you won't pay for the same purchase twice.

I purchased your apps, but they won't work on my iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch! Can I get a refund?

For SkySafari 5, make sure your device is running iOS 8.0 or later. The app won't work on an older version of iOS. You can update to the latest iPhone OS from Apple, free of charge, using iTunes.

It is possible to get a refund for your purchase, but not from us, since the apps are sold through the App Store. Instead, you should contact Apple about this.

I purchased SkySafari version 4. Can I get a free upgrade to version 5?

Unfortunately not. SkySafari 5 is a significant rewrite of the app it requires a later iOS version (8), and it's distributed as an entirely separate app on the app store. Apple will not credit the cost of one app toward the purchase of another this is Apple's policy, not ours.

During the first month after SkySafari 5 was launched, we offered it at half price so that current customers could upgrade inexpensively. We heavily advertised this upgrade offer in print and on-line astronomy media, by issuing several press releases, and by sending push notifications to every single user of SkySafari 4. (If you didn't receive our notification, do you have Push notifications for SkySafari turned off on your iOS device?)

I purchased the basic version of SkySafari 4. Can I get an upgrade to SkySafari Plus or Pro for just the difference in cost?

Unfortunately, no. These are separate apps on the iTunes store, and as per above, Apple does not credit the purchase of any app toward the purchase of any other. This is Apple's policy, not ours. Remember - you're actually buying the app from Apple, not from us.

It's for this reason that we've kept the Basic version as inexpensive as it is. If you decide that you want to upgrade to Plus or Pro later, make sure you know which one you want. This is a purchase decision which we cannot make for you, and which we cannot reverse.

I bought your Android version and/or your Mac version. Can I get a discount on your iOS version?

No. SkySafari for Android is a complete rewrite of app, written in a different programming language, running on a device with a different kind of processor, under a separate operating system with a different user interface. Our Mac and iOS apps are sold through different app stores. There's just no way we can offer a common license for all of them.

We hope that this won't dissuade you from purchasing the iOS version separately. Most desktop astronomy programs competing at SkySafari's level of sophistication cost hundreds of dollars - ours is priced at the cost of a pizza. At these very low prices, we hope that SkySafari for iOS will provide you with tremendous value, in spite of being a separate purchase.

I have a BlackBerry/Windows Mobile/WebOS/other mobile device. Do you have a version of your apps for my device?

We currently only support iOS, Android and Mac. If/when we release versions of our applications for other mobile devices, we will announce them very publicly on our web site!

Yes! SkySafari is a "universal" app which supports the iPad screen at full resolution, as well as the smaller iPhone/iPod Touch screens. It works almost identically on both devices. In a few places, the user interface has been rearranged to fit the larger iPad screen, but the app's features and functionality remain unchanged.

I'm running your app, but all I see is stars! How do I get to the Settings and other controls?

Rotate the iPhone to "portrait" mode - the toolbar and other controls will appear. We designed the app this way so the star chart can be shown in full-screen when the iPhone is held in "landscape" mode. If you don't like this, go to the app's Settings > Appearance screen, and turn on the Toolbar in Landscape switch (under the Auto-Rotation section).

All that pinching to zoom in and out is making my fingers tired! Is there a better way to zoom in on all those tiny little objects?

Yes! The app has "hot corners" for zooming in the lower left and right corners of the screen. These are shown by + and - symbols whenever you swipe or pinch the star chart. Touch + to increase magnification touch - to decrease it. The zooming will continue as long as you leave your finger down in the desired "hot corner".

The compass is not working! How do I make your apps show me the sky as I move the phone around?

First, make sure you have an iPhone or iPad with a compass. The original iPhone, iPhone 3G, and iPod Touch all lack a compass, so you won't be able to do this. At most, you'll be able to see the stars move "up and down" as you tilt the phone vertically. If you know where north is on the horizon, you can swipe the screen horizontally to "dial-in" the correct view.

If you do have an iPhone or iPad with a compass, tap the Compass button on the toolbar to activate it. If your device does not have a compass, this button will be hidden.

If you have SkySafari 5 and iOS 8, make sure the following iOS System settings are turned on:

Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services > Compass Calibration

Finally, a word of caution: the solid-state compass built into the iPhone/iPad is notoriously inaccurate, and easily affected by interference. It was designed for street navigation, not astronomy, and it can easily be wrong by ten degrees or more. The compass may be useful for locating bright objects in a general part of the sky, but it's certainly not accurate enough to point a telescope.

I haven't used your app in a while. Now, when it starts up, I only see an empty black (or green) screen. What's broken? How do I fix it?

The last time you used the app, you were probably zoomed in on a very small field of view, and the thing you were looking at is no longer there. (Were you looking at Jupiter's moons?) Try zooming out by placing your finger on the - sign in the lower left-hand corner of the screen.

If the entire field of view is green, you are probably looking below the horizon. If the compass is turned on, then you'll always be looking below the horizon if you're looking down at the phone (see the question above). Turn off this setting, or hold the phone above your head.

Zooming out should make this clearer. You can also try making the horizon translucent to view the stars underneath it go to Settings > Sky & Horizon to do this.

Your app used to work fine, but now it crashes every time it starts up. How do I fix this?

Did you recently update the operating system software on your iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch? Sometimes, iDevices just act strangely. Try rebooting the phone. If all else fails, completely delete the app from your device, and reinstall it from the iTunes Store. You won't be charged for purchasing the app a second time, as long as you purchase it from the same iTunes account that you used to purchase it originally.

I'm searching for Comet X or Asteroid Y, but it's not in your database. How can I find it?

Recently-discovered comets and asteroids may not be present in SkySafari's original database. To add them, go to the app's Settings > Solar System view, then tap the Update Orbit Data button at the bottom. This will import the latest asteroid/comet data from the Minor Planet Center. If you still can't find your asteroid or comet, the MPC may not yet have added it to its export files. Try again in a few days.

I'm trying to observe a satellite, or the International Space Station. But SkySafari's predictions for where the satellite is/when it passes overhead are wildly wrong. What's the problem?

Your satellite orbital elements are probably out of date. To update them, go to the app's Settings > Solar System view, then tap the Update Orbit Data button at the bottom. This will import the latest satellite data from the CelesTrak. Satellite orbits change rapidly due to atmospheric drag, and due to perturbations from the Earth's non-spherical gravity field, so it's important to update your orbit data frequently - at least once a week - to get accurate predictions for them.

You also might want to make sure that your location, time zone, date/time, etc. are correct - if you've accidentally set your observing location to California, but you're really in Colorado, that will make a big difference!

SkySafari is predicting a rise/set time for the Sun/Moon/some other object which is clearly wrong. Is your app broken?

No - this is really basic celestial mechanics that has been tested many times over by our users. The problem is almost certainly that your location, time zone, or the date/time are set incorrectly. Go to SkySafari's Settings view to adjust them.

If your device's Location Services are turned off, SkySafari may be unable to determine your current location. A common symptom of this problem is that your latitude, longitude, and time zone will all be zero. To correct this, go into your iPhone's Settings > General > Location Services screen make sure Location Services are turned ON, and also turned ON for SkySafari.

If rise/set times are off by exactly one hour, the problem is almost certainly that your time zone is incorrect, or that SkySafari thinks daylight savings time is in effect when it really isn't (or vice versa). Governments frequently change the rules for Daylight Savings Time, and while we try to keep up with them, we may have missed something. You can manually set your time zone, and turn SkySafari's automatic daylight savings time correction ON or OFF, in SkySafari's Settings > Date & Time view.

I want to put "Telrad Circles" on my sky chart, which simulate the field of view of my telescope/telrad/finder/binoculars to assist in star-hopping. How do I do this?

Go to the main Settings icon > Telescope Display section, and turn on the Telrad Circles option. If you're connected to a telescope, the Telrad circles will appear on the sky chart where your telescope is pointing. If you're not connected, turn on the Show Even if Not Connected to Telescope option. Then the Telrad circles will always appear centered in the middle of your sky chart.

I have a bluetooth serial adapter. Can your iPhone apps use bluetooth to control my telescope?

Unfortunately, no. The iPhone OS does not allow third-party applications to have unrestricted access to the bluetooth capabilities built into the iPhone and iPod Touch. That is what we would need in order to make this work, and not having it is a major reason we developed SkyFi in the first place.

Unrestricted bluetooth access may be possible with a jailbroken phone. But as licensed Apple developers we can't support that, so currently our apps do not use bluetooth at all. If unrestricted bluetooth access is allowed in future versions of the iPhone OS, this may change.

How about the serial pins in the iPhone/iPod dock connector? Can I make a cable to control my telescope with a wired connection from my iPhone?

You can make such a cable, but it won't do you much good. As with bluetooth, you'd have to jailbreak your phone in order to use it. As licensed Apple developers we can't support that.

A much better idea is to purchase SkyWire - the world's first Apple-approved serial cable for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. It adds a fully-functional RS-232 port to your iOS device, and integrates seamlessly with our SkySafari app. Since it complies with all of Apple's "Made for iPod" accessory requirements, you don't have to jailbreak your phone in order to use it.

I'm using your iPhone app to control my telescope. But the directional arrows don't work - I get an error message that says "Use the telescope's hand controller". What's up?

Some telescopes (for example, the Celestron Ultima 2000 and original NexStar 5/8 and the Argo Navis) lack external commands for directional motion. Even though they are mechanically capable of doing so, their control language has no command to (for example) "move north" or "move south". When these telescopes' manufacturers add those commands, we will be happy to support them!

Can SkySafari align my telescope for me? Can it use the iPhone's GPS to tell me where the scope is pointing?

No. GPS can tell you very accurately where on Planet Earth you and your telescope are located. But it can't "auto-magically" tell you what direction your scope happens to be looking toward. Similarly, your iPhone has no way of knowing the orientation that you may have chosen when you plopped your telescope mount down on the ground. Our app has to rely on the coordinates reported by the telescope mount controller. And for those coordinates to be meaningful, you need to star-align your telescope mount before connecting to it with SkySafari.

Every telescope mount has a different star-alignment procedure, so for details consult your telescope manual. But the basic idea is this: manually point your telescope at one known bright star, then tell the telescope mount controller that you are aligned on that star. Repeat the process with a second known bright star. Now the mount can compute its orientation relative to the celestial coordinate system, and the mount controller can tell SkySafari exactly where the telescope is pointing, to a very high level of accuracy. The more carefully you've aligned your scope, the more accurate your GoTos will be.

Admittedly, star alignment is one of the trickiest problems encountered by new telescope users. SkySafari can help you with this, by using your iPhone's compass and altimeter to help you find bright alignment stars in the sky. You'll still have to point your telescope at them, following the alignment procedure specific to your particular telescope controller. In the end, though, there's no subsitute for knowing your way around the sky - and for knowing how to use your telescope equipment properly. SkySafari can help you with the former, but is not a replacement for the latter - at least not yet!

Observing lists are cool, but creating them by hand is tedious. Can SkySafari import an observing list that I create as a text file, or an observing list from another program?

SkySafari does not support other programs' observing list formats directly. But in SkySafari version 3.0.3, we've added code to import observing lists as text files. At least a few other programs (AstroPlanner, Deep-Sky Planner, Eye & Telescope) can now export observing lists to SkySafari in this format.

See the the section on Observing Lists in SkySafari's built-in Help file for instructions on how to import them into the program. Briefly: you can use iTunes file sharing to get them into or out of the program. You can also email observing lists to yourself, and open the .skylist file attachment from your iPhone. Or you can use the Safari browser on your iPhone to download and open them directly from web sites like our Yahoo! support group.

If you want to convert your own observing lists to a text file that SkySafari can import, here's an example of the format that you need to use:

    SkySafariObservingListVersion=3.0
    SkyObject=BeginObject
      ObjectID=4,0,701
      CatalogNumber=M 42
      CatalogNumber=NGC 1976
      CatalogNumber=LBN 974
      CommonName=Orion Nebula
      ObjectID=2,0,971
      CatalogNumber=Alpha CrB
      CatalogNumber=5 CrB
      CatalogNumber=HR 5793
      CatalogNumber=HD 139006
      CommonName=Alphecca
      ObjectID=1,0,5
      CatalogNumber=
      CommonName=Jupiter
      DateObserved=2455758.204807
      Comment=Great red spot was great! And red!
      ObjectID=1,0,4667
      CommonName=Garradd
      CommonName=C/2009 P1
      ObjectID=1,0,14877
      CommonName=1998 DD24
      CatalogNumber=42608

    Lines may be separated by a single linefeed (LF) character (' ', ASCII hex code 0x0A, decimal value 10), or by carriage return (CR) characters (' ', ASCII code 0x0D, decimal 13), or by CR-LF pairs. In other words, your text file may be a unix-style text file, or a classic Mac or DOS/Windows text file.

    The first line must be SkySafariObservingListVersion=3.0

    Observing list entries are groups of keyword=value pairs. Groups are demarcated by BeginObject and EndObject lines.

    In the sample above, we've indented the keyword/value pairs within each object for clarity, but you don't have to. SkySafari strips out leading whitespace when importing the file.

    The ObjectID field is what SkySafari uses internally to identify the object. Since you don't know this, you can use the following:

    SkySafari will try to find the object based on the CatalogNumber or CommonName values, and fix up the ObjectID values internally after it imports the list.

    The CatalogNumber values are used preferentially instead of the name(s). Please use the same catalog abbreviations that SkySafari uses, e.g. Alpha CMa, HR 7001, M 97, NGC 1695. If the object has no CatalogNumber (like Jupiter), then enter its name(s) in the CommonName field. For asteroids, the asteroid number is the CatalogNumber use the CommonName field for all other solar system object identifiers.

    DateObserved and Comment are optional. DateObserved is the julian date on which your observation took place Comment is the notes you want associated with the object. Newlines in the notes should be indicated with a sequence.

    How do I get my own horizon panorama into SkySafari? Can you show me an example?

    See the Help file included with the program, under the Settings > Horizon & Sky section. Briefly: first use a program like Photoshop to create a panorama from individual pictures. Your finished horizon panorama must be a 2048 x 1024 pixel image in PNG format, with alpha (transparency) indicating clear sky vs. opaque ground. North is at the left edge south is in the middle. Connect your iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch device to a computer with a USB cable, then use iTunes file sharing to copy your panorama PNG file onto your device.

    Here's an example, sent to us with permission by Roger Greenwood in Massachusetts, USA. Click the preview image below to view the full-sized PNG, which you can import into SkySafari as an example:

    Click the preview image above to view and download the full-sized PNG of Roger's Back Yard.

    Joshua Bury, creator of the Observer Pro iOS app, has created a web-based application that converts a numerical horizon representation (altitude/azimuth points saved as an Observer Pro .hzn file) into to a panorama that can be used in SkySafari. It's not as accurate as a well-done photographic panorama, but it is really easy to create, especially if you've used Observer Pro to measure your horizon.

    The horizon is not visible! But I've got "show horizon and sky" checked, and/or a panorama selected, in my Horizon & Sky Settings. What's wrong?

    If you're running SkySafari Plus or Pro, make sure your coordinate system is set to Horizon coordinates. Look in your Coordinates settings. If set to Equatorial, Ecliptic, or Galactic coordinates, the horizon will not be shown. This is deliberate - these other coordinate systems do not align to your local horizon, so it would appear skewed at a weird angle. A printed star chart uses equatorial coordinates, and does not show the horizon either. SkySafari is no different.

    The sky chart is covered with hundreds of labels for satellites/comets/asteroids, and I can't get rid of them! Is that a bug?

    No, you have just turned on highlighting for an object list. Look for a small green list icon at the bottom of the sky chart, and tap it. That will bring you to the object list that is highlighted. Switch off the highlighting, and the labels will go away.

    This feature is intended to let you quickly see where all objects in a particular list - for example, Messier objects, or an observing list that you've created - are located in the sky. You might have highlighted that list by accident. The green list icon always brings you back to the list that is highlighted.

    Can SkySafari compute the exact angular separation between two objects in the sky?

    Yes! SkySafari Plus and Pro can do this, but the basic version cannot. There are two ways:

    1. Tap the first object to select it, then double tap the second object. This turns on measurement mode. A blue line is drawn from one object to he next with the angular separation. Tapping and dragging on the second object will allow you to move the end point to another object. To exit measurement mode just tap anywhere else in the chart.

    2. Select the first object by tapping on it or searching for it. Then select the second object (also by tapping or searching). Finally, tap the Info button on the main toolbar. The Object Info data table shows the angular separation from the 1st object to the 2nd object, and the position angle. It also shows the 2nd object's angular separation and position angle from the Sun, and from the chart center.

    I've turned on Night Vision, but part of your user interface is still drawn in white. Can you fix that?

    Possibly not. Making every iPhone user interface element red is actually very challenging there are some things that iOS does not give us any control over. For this reason, we always recommend using a sheet of red cellophane, like Rubylith, if you absolutely need every part of the screen to be red. And a "hardware solution" like this will work even if our app is in the background.

    Some double stars don't show their companion when I zoom in. Why is that?

    The only stars we plot on the chart are the ones in SKY2000, Hipparcos, and Tycho 2 catalogs (and GSC2, in the Pro version). If your star isn't in those catalogs, it won't be displayed.

    The only exception to the above are stars whose primary is in the above catalogs which also happen to have orbits in the 6th Binary Star Orbit catalog. If that star has an orbit, and its companion isn't already obviously listed as a separate entry in SKY2000/HIP/TYC2, then we generate a separate binary companion for it.


    The Night Sky at Different Times of Year

    The Earth's motion around the Sun brings different stars into view as the seasons progress. In this section you will learn what constellations are visible at different times of year.

    Below you can click on links to four seasons: October, February, May, and July. For each season you will find a simulated view of the night sky showing what you would see if you were looking south at about 8 PM from a middle northern latitude, such as most of the US or southern Europe. Each view spans roughly 120 degrees of sky, which is a little wider than your field of view. The left edge of the image is about southeast. The right edge is about southwest. The top of the image is about overhead. The dimmest stars have been suppressed to make the constellation patterns a little more visible and also (sadly) to simulate the effect of light pollution.

    To help give you a sense of scale, each chart has an orange bar at the bottom that represents about the width of your spread hand at arms length.

    Once you have looked at the map and noted any patterns in the stars that you can make out, move the mouse over the image. This will load a new image with the constellations marked and the brighter stars labelled. The constellation outlines are only approximate, but they do show its brighter and more obvious stars.

    Try this on the sample below.

    Now, move the mouse off the map and try to spot the patterns of each constellation on the simulated sky.

    In addition to the southern view at each season, additional charts show the northern sky in October and February and the late summer/early autumn sky straight overhead.

    This set of charts will introduce you to approximately 20 constellations and ten bright stars. At least a few of these constellations and stars will be visible at any time of year from northern latitudes.


    How to Find the North Star

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    The North Star, also known as Polaris, is often used by campers to help them find their way when lost. You may also just want to find the North Star for fun if you're into star gazing. You can rely on constellations in the night sky to find the North Star. As most constellations you'll need to use are in the northern sky, you'll need to figure out which direction is north first. If you do not have a compass, you can rely on signs from nature to figure out whether or not you're facing north.


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