Review - Starry Night Pro Plus 7
Posted: 14 January 2015
Starry Night Pro Plus 7
Simulation Curriculum sent me a copy of Starry Night Pro Plus 7 for Mac OS X on a DVD-ROM. It was the same version as available via download (2.5 GB) from their web site. There are several versions of Starry Night available at various prices. You can upgrade from one version to a higher version by purchasing the upgrade. I will be dicussing the "Pro Plus" version, which is the highest, most capable version available. It includes all the features and capabilities of the other versions.
Upon initial installation and launch you are prompted to enter your "Home Location". You can do that via a city name (if you live in or near one of its known cities), a map view, your Latitude/Longitude, or your Zip/Postal Code. I used my observatory Lat/Long. Time Zone can be obtained from your computer's setting. Once configured it was not obvious how you change the name of your current "Home Location" to something else, like "Cassiopeia Observatory". Also, the default screen showed my location as "Near Mount Lemmon IR Observatory, USA". So, there is a lot to learn about using Starry Night Pro. Fortunately, there is a Users Guide (PDF) accessible from within the application. I'll read that before I get into the application. (I usually do read hardware and software manuals before using a product.)
Some Personal Background
Before I get further into this Starry Night Pro Plus review, I thought it would be helpful to provide some background on my use of star charts. Like many long-time amateur astronomers, my first star charts were printed. I used a planisphere,
a Sky & Telescope Lunar Map, Norton's Star Atlas (14th Edition, 1959),
and the monthly charts in Sky & Telescope magazine, all of these back in the 1960s. I continued to use this edition of Norton's into the 1990s. While an undergraduate student in Astrophysics, 1966-70, I used the IU Astronomy Department's copy of the Palomar Observatory Sky Atlas.
In the 1990s I started using Carina Software Voyager II software on a Macintosh. In 2000 I upgraded to Voyager III. For a few years in the early 2000s I used Star Pilot on my Palm Vx. About that same time I got a printed copy of Rigel Systems The Trained Sky Star Atlas. When SkyVoyager (now known as SkySafari) and SkyGazer for the iPhone were released in 2009, I got them, as well as Star Walk, and decided on SkyVoyager as my "in the field" sky chart. In 2011, SkySafari Pro 3 for iOS came out from Southern Stars and I upgraded. Also in 2011, SkySafari for Mac OS X was released and I quickly came to prefer it over Voyager version 4.5 (which was the latest version at the time, had become outdated, and was last updated in 2010). In December 2014, I upgraded to version 4 of SkySafari Pro for Mac OS X. I have found that SkySafari for iOS and Mac have worked well for me over the years and I also continue to use The Trained Sky Star Atlas in the observatory. Also in the observatory are Norton's Star Atlas (19th Edition; 1998),
Firefly Moon Map, Sky & Telescope Lunar Map (from about 1962),
Burnham's Celestial Handbook (3 volumes), and The Revised New General Catalog of Nonstellar Astronomical Objects (1973).
From the background above you can see that I have extensive experience with star charts, both printed and software.
So, what about Starry Night Pro Plus? I'll first briefly discuss its documentation, and then extensively cover using the program.
Starry Night Documentation
There are two PDFs accessible from the Help menu: "Starry Night 7 Users Guide" (for Mac and Windows) and a "Starry Night Companion". The covers and the Companion Table of Contents are shown here:
I copied both documents to my iPad for ease of reading. I first read the "Starry Night Companion" (192 pages, including two appendices, glossary, and an index) just to see what level of amateur astronomer it was aimed for. The beginning of the book talks about using Starry Night as a "time machine" (to view the sky at any time in the past, present, or future) and a "spaceship" (to view the universe from any where on or off the Earth). But then it quickly moves away from Starry Night and provides a good background to the sky and observing, as shown in the Table of Contents above. Unfortunately, some pages in the PDF document did not display well on the iPad (using iOS 8.1.2) or in Preview on the Mac (OS X 10.10.1) or Acrobat Reader 11.0.10, as seen here from the first page of Chapter 1, with text hidden by the large black area:
Fortunately, this problem is limited to just a few pages; the rest of the pages are OK. The Companion book is a nice introduction to amateur astronomy for someone new to night sky observing, with or without a telescope. The basics of everything the new amateur astronomer needs to know is discussed in the book. If you are already knowledgeable about the night sky, you can likely skip this book. Personally, I enjoyed reading the book as it reminded me of the books I read back in the early 1960s when I started my life as an astronomer.
Next, I read the "Starry Night Users Guide" (146 pages, no index but has detailed Table of Contents plus Appendix). The Users Guide is divided into 10 Chapters:
Appearance of the Sky
Bending Space & Time
Working with Files
Adding Your Own Data
Starry Night Pro Plus
The Users Guide includes installation instructions. I think these instructions should have been included in a separate file in the download or on DVD-ROM. Afterall, you can't get to the Users Guide until AFTER you have installed the program and you won't even know there is a Users Guide until you look at the installed program's Help menu. If installing on Windows, the installer program will also install (if not already on your system) Apple QuickTime, Adobe Reader, Microsoft C++ Redistributable, and ASCOM (for telescope control in Pro and Pro Plus). There are also custom install options to include fainter stars and galaxies. Mac installations are not customizable and the telescope control capability is built-in, requiring no separate driver. The Users Guide notes that once you have installed and launched the program, it will attempt to set your Home location using your Internet IP address. One caveat that I should mention is that satellite Internet systems may not always provide an accurate location for your computer. HughesNet (my provider) frequently (but not always) shows my computer as being in Lousiana and not Arizona. You can still manually input your location information.
The Users Guide is very helpful and can be read in its entirety to learn what the program can do. Or you can read individual portions as you explore the program when you want to learn how to use specific features. Once I had read the first three chapters, I did some initial configuring of the program (discussed in "Using Starry Night Pro Plus"). I then continued to read the Users Guide, trying out various features as I read about them. There are a few discrepanies in the Guide where it doesn't exactly match the program.
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