the world’s best observing software
a comet visually is more difficult than the pretty pictures make
it appear. Standing next to the photographer, few people would
have noticed this comet, and binoculars were required for most to
see it at all. This image was captured by SkyTools user Ernie
Parker on March 14 2013 at StargateCOlorado Observatory in
Don't Have to be Famous
For decades amateur astronomers have simply sat by
until the news media anointed a bright comet to observe. Yet on
just about any clear night, at least one comet is visible in a
4-inch telescope, and some months there are many more. There are
comets that are even visible to the naked eye and easily seen in binoculars
without becoming fodder for the news media.
people enjoy hunting down fuzzy deep sky objects in their
telescopes. These objects become like old friends that can be
retuned to again and again; always there just as before.
Telescopic comets are like deep sky objects, but they move,
carrying you with
them to new star fields. Comets change in size and shape,
and you never know what you will find from night to night. You
could be the first to discover that a comet has brightened
overnight, or disappeared forever.
all but the brightest comets have been difficult to observe,
partly because the astronomical news media could not deliver
observing information quickly enough. The web and astronomy
software has solved that problem, but until recently one obstacle remained. There was no means of predicting which comets were
visible in a given telescope under a given set of observing
conditions. Unlike stars, the magnitude of a comet is not a
reliable indicator of how visible it is. This is where SkyTools 3
Story of Comet
A lot of people in
the northern hemisphere missed comet PANSTARRS in March 2013 because they
weren't able to find it. For those who did spot it, it was a view they
will not soon forget, particularly on the night when it was paired
with the crescent moon. Sadly, for months afterward PANSTARRS was
easily visible in small telescopes, but with the media hype over,
many didn’t realize it. Even the major magazines and web sites
failed to fully convey when, where and how
people needed to look to see it. Their over-simple finder
charts and off-the-hip advice failed because PANSTARRS was rather
unlike other recent comets.
many observers it was SkyTools that made the difference in
observing it successfully.
I began planning for PANSTARRS myself, it became clear that what
SkyTools was recommending was at odds with the advice of the
experts. Was SkyTools somehow failing for this comet? Or did
SkyTools know something the experts didn’t?
people were looking for a large bright comet, but PANSTARRS was
quite small, and according to SkyTools, they were looking too soon
in the week and too early in the evening.
enough, even expert observers had difficulty finding PANSTARRS in
the first few days. I waited until the first night that SkyTools
recommended and then I invited friends and relatives out to an
overlook with a good view of the western horizon. When we arrived,
there were some people nearby with a telescope. They were packing
up, complaining that they had not been able to find the comet.
Before they could get their scope in the car I had found it in my
binoculars. I showed them where to look and everyone had a good
it set on the horizon, I was struck by how bright and persistent
the sunset was in the area of the comet. Much of the rest of the
sky had become dark, but the comet was still bathed in brilliant
colors just before passing below the horizon. The bright
sunglow near the comet was what made it so difficult to spot.
Saves the Day
PANSTARRS may have been SkyTools’ finest moment. What made
predicting the visibility of PANSTARRS difficult was the combined
impact of light pollution, moonlight, and sunset glow. The
combination of these factors overwhelmed the predictions of most
experts based on their previous experience alone. But SkyTools
accurately weighed each of these factors in its scientific model,
telling users exactly where and most importantly, when
to look. This is something no other software can do.
Greg Crinklaw — Developer of
12 was a memorable night for many, as the nearby thin crescent
moon pointed the way to the comet and, for some, stole the show.
This image was captured by SkyTools user Joe Morris at Dos
Cabezas Mountains near San Simon, AZ. He used a Nikon 180mm lens
at f4 that was attached to a Canon Rebel XT camera on a tripod.
user Al Tuttle obtained this amazing image of comet PANSTARRS on
April 13, 2013 from Sun Lakes State Park in central Washington.
This was over a month after PANSTARRS dropped off most people’s
3, because it's the astronomy that matters.
more about SkyTools 3
the SkyTools 3 exclusive features for Comet Observing
to Planning for Comet ISON using SkyTools 3