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Planning Observations with SkyTools 3

The Standard/Pro Edition Nightly Planner is where you plan a night's observations.  Choose an observing list then filter the list so that only those targets best observed on that night with your telescope under your observing conditions are displayed.  The planner has different modes of operation designed to fit the type of observing you are planning to do (including imaging for the Pro Edition).

Watch a demonstration by the author

Up to 40 customizable columns of data can displayed for the observing list.  Each list can be assigned a custom column scheme tailored to fit.  For instance, special double star columns showing separation, visual splittability, etc., may be enabled only for lists of double stars.  

Uniquely useful columns for visual observing include the optimum time to observe, the estimated visual difficulty in the eyepiece, the visual difficulty under best conditions (for comparison), and the optimum eyepiece to use.  Other columns indicate your observing priority, whether or not the object has been observed and a five-star rating.  The little log icon next to M34 indicates a log entry; clicking it and takes you to the log entries for the object.

Over 200 ready-made observing lists are available from our web site.  Browse and download them from directly from within SkyTools.  Observing lists can be shared with the SkyTools community with optional notes, images, web links, logs, and user-created objects attached.  Or create your own lists via the Nightly Observing List Generator, Database Power Search, or Designation Search tools.

The NightBar tells you at a glance most everything you need to know.  It displays the darkness of the sky vs. time on the night selected.  On this night the moon rises after 1 AM. 

The selected object is The Great Nebula in Orion, or M42 (highlighted in the list blue).  The altitude of M42 is drawn on the NightBar as a red dashed line.  The green horizontal line represents the two airmass altitude, above which observations should be made, if possible.  From looking at the NightBar we can see that M42 is on the rise after the end of evening twilight and is best observed around 20:30 (or 8:30 PM, the time format is selectable).  Moonlight ends the session at approximately 23:00 (11 PM).  This is also indicated in the observing list in the optimum observing window columns (Begin, Optimum, End).


The Right-click menu takes you to many functions for the selected object.  From here you can quickly see all the information related to the object, open a view in the atlas, target a connected telescope, print a star hopping chart, create a log entry, download a DSS image, etc.  

The magic of SkyTools is that each of these tasks assumes as much as possible from the context of the object on the planner.  For example, charts are automatically made for the selected observing location, telescope, and optimum time, thus eliminating the need to set each of these parameters when you open a chart.  This is why SkyTools opens with the planner rather than with a chart (as with traditional star charting software).  

Keyboard shortcuts are provided for each of the common tasks.