Updated: Mar 12, 2022
Over the last 14 years, I have been a fairly active member of the astronomy community. I have run countless star watches as an advisor for students of mine, as well as public star watches as the president of my local astronomy club. Star watches are challenging things to plan, as many of our community knows, due to the all so disruptive cloud cover, cold weather conditions, and global pandemics. So finally you get that clear night under the stars. You and your fellow astronomers all start to look at each other as you start to get ready for the night. "How long has it been since we had a clear night like this?" someone asks. Dumbfounded by the truth in this statement, you all start to realize it has been many months since you had such conditions. This is NOT a night to be wasted. "Awesome.", you think. This is your chance to do some real astronomy.
Unfortunately, you are rusty. Not like, just a little rusty, we are talking full-fledged falling apart rusty. You didn't even realize how much you have forgotten since you were last out under a clear night sky. "Which star is that again?", you ask. "What constellations are up this time of year?", someone else says.
You would think after over a decade of doing this that more things would have stuck in that brain of yours, but, alas, you cannot remember. By this point, you have fumbled your way through a rough three-star alignment process and have started to show members of the public some of the bright objects. The moon, planets, maybe some of the famous or brighter nebulae or globular clusters. Your "favorites". The ones you like the most. "That's cool." a member of the public says unconvincingly. "I just saw that in the other guy's scope a few minutes ago."
Great. the guy next to me overheard that I was slewing to the Ring Nebula so they decided to go there too. After a few minutes, you realize your favorite objects just so happen to be the EXACT same objects as every other telescope at the star watch. You end up putting on a decent star watch, the public loved it! But you walk away feeling that you've not fully enjoyed the evening. Nothing new. Nothing interesting. Just another star watch that provided others enjoyment, but didn't get you the wow factor astronomy used to have.
For the past 6 years, I have been getting relatively advanced in astrophotography. Astrophotography is awesome, and I truly get a rush from getting that first exposure of a new object on my screen. Nothing is quite like it. Once you have got a bunch of good data, then comes the fun part, processing loads of data into a masterpiece that wows you, your friends, and your family. You post it up on social media and get a bunch of likes. You have got the "bug". Watch your wallet carefully, astrophotography now runs in your blood.
However, much of the astrophotography experience has left me jaded towards introducing new technology into my nights when I want to observe visually. Visual astronomy still is exciting for me, and I am saddened by other astrophotographers who cannot find joy in visual observation. For me, visual observation is a cathartic experience. A form of meditation that centers me and soothes my soul. I feel like visual astronomy, especially in a dark sky site, connects me to the universe in ways that astrophotography cannot. I want to be in the moment, and potential distractions and technical difficulties are not permitted to interrupt my moment of zen.
A few days ago I had the pleasure of using the Sky Safari 7 software for telescope control. I've been using Sky Safari and Starry Night software for the last 14 years, but I've never actually tried to control a telescope from start to finish. I have to say, for someone who has done this the manual way, including using a non-goto Dobsonian scope much of the time, the ease of the
SkySafari 7 software to search for, locate, and slew to objects has the potential to really increase your chances of learning something new and observing objects that bring that excitement back to those rare clear nights under the stars.
The process of hooking up the telescope to Sky Safari 7 was extremely straightforward. I nearly called my YouTube video on it "STUPID EASY Telescope Control". The setup process to connect Sky Safari 7 to the telescope was to simply connect to the telescope's WiFi, go to settings, telescope, and set up a new preset for the telescope. In this case, I was using the Celestron Evolution 8 Telescope and Celestron StarSense AutoAlign.
The Celestron StarSense AutoAlign had me automatically up and running producing perfectly executed go-to slews to objects of interest in less than 5 minutes. The process was incredibly simple. On Sky Safari 7, I simply looked around the sky using the highly intuitive user interface, chose an object from the huge object database, and chose "Slew to". Within seconds I was actively observing the object.
The potential for this technology to increase the efficiency, enjoyment, and learning during your next star watch or personal observing session is extremely likely. Even with my years of experience, I find Sky Safari 7 to be one of the most powerful and important tools in my astronomy kit. The ability to perform automatic alignments, quickly identify and choose objects, perform flawless go-to slews, and learn fascinating facts and figures from the enormous amount of highly detailed scientifically accurate information provided within the Sky Safari database is priceless.
Considering the large cost of quality optical and imaging equipment, the cost of this software is a bargain to say the least.
To download Sky Safari 7 for iPhone or iPad, visit www.skysafariastronomy.com.
At your next star watch, you will be the one who finally walks away having had that same enjoyment and wow factor that got you excited about observational astronomy in the first place.