Review of Sky Safari 3 Plus

Well I had some extra money on my iTunes account (seems relatives like to give iTunes card) so I decided to purchase Sky Safari 3 Plus. My blog entry tonight will be a review of this app with corresponding images from the program. I share the images under the fair use agreement since I am using under 5% of the program to review it. Again with the images if you want to see them larger, simply click on them and then click the X when you want to come back here.

First off, what are the differences between Sky Safari 3, Sky Safari 3 Plus and Sky Safari 3 Pro. From the Southern Skies website located here, this information is shared.

Sky Safari 3

The basic version of SkySafari 3 shows you 120,000 stars, plus 220 of the best-known star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies in the sky. It displays the Solar System's major planets and moons using NASA spacecraft imagery, and includes the best-known 20 asteroids and comets.

Sky Safari 3 Plus

SkySafari 3 Plus adds a hugely expanded database - and wired or wireless telescope control - to our basic version. It shows you 2.5 million stars, and 31,000 deep sky objects - including the entire NGC/IC catalog. It includes over 4,000 asteroids, comets, and satellites with updateable orbits. And it can point your GoTo or "Push-To" telescope anywhere in the sky, using your iPhone/iPad/iPod's built-in WiFi, and our SkyFi or SkyWire serial accessories.

SkySafari 3 Pro

The all-new SkySafari 3 Pro has the largest database of any astronomy app, period. It contains everything in SkySafari 3 Plus - but also includes over 15.3 million stars from the Hubble Guide Star catalog, plus 740,000 galaxies down to 18th magnitude, and over 550,000 solar system objects - including every comet and asteroid ever discovered. Yet it runs just as fast and smoothly as our $3 basic version.

I opted to purchase the Plus version as I feel it meets my needs the best as it includes the NGC/IC catalog which is what I am working through right now.

I'm going to begin with the basic look that comes up after your start the program.

This is a pretty close in view compared to what you'll see when you launch the program. You get a much wider view and actual landscape down on the bottom of the screen. I have zoomed in a little bit more and will discuss why later. On the bottom of the screen are two green items, a + on the bottom right and a green - on the bottom left. The + zooms in and the - zooms out. The usual finger motions of bringing the thumb and index finger together or apart also works but I like this little addition. It works quickly and gets you zoomed in or out and if your in the field using this program, that will help a lot.

Below this is a series of buttons that I'll cover going from left to right. The first is a search button. This is the single most important feature that I feel most amateurs who are visual observers will use the most. Here is a cut off image:

You can see this covers a rather large range of items that you can observe from. It begins with what is called Tonight's Best and that includes DSO's, planets and their moons, double stars, comets, asteroids and everything else on the list. Under the Asterisms is a place to create your own observing lists that you can use when your in the field. You can name them what you want and save objects to them.

In this next image you can see I have entered some of the galaxies in Eridanus and Fornax that I wish to hunt down.

In the next window you can see that when you select an object you have a three choice menu that comes up. The first is to Show Object Info and that takes you to an info page that I'll show shortly. The next one is Edit Observation, which brings up a new window that I'll show next where you can actually enter in your observation of that object. Here I wish they had worked in some voice recorder and recognition software so it could be recorded by voice and then automatically translated. I fear that is hoping for too much so I see that my digital voice recorder will continue to be used and notes entered in on those cloudy or full moon nights. The last menu choice is Center Object which does just that, center the objects on the map so you can zoom in or zoom out and get going on star hoping to it!

Here is what the log looks like where you can enter the information on your observation. Rather scant and I would like to see a basic format that you perhaps scroll through or that allows for such an option to be selected but I guess this way each observer can enter their data the way the want it.

Now once you get an object on the menu and select center on object, or as your on the atlas scrolling around and zooming in and out, if you find an object and want to look at the information you just need to simply tap on the object until you see the screen look like this image.

You can see the cross hairs and you know that object is centered. A double tap will bring you to the information page which looks like the next image and contains a good load of information. Some objects include an image, others do not. I am always somewhat leery when pictures are included, because we all know they will look nothing like that in the eyepiece, at least I hope we all know that. Be careful with that double tap. If you have short and stubby hands like I do then you'll find that about half the time you are tapping on a nearby star.

Here is an info page on a galaxy without an image:

Here is an info page on a galaxy with an image. On the image below you can actually scroll down to gather more information on the object.

Now back to the Search Menu to share a few items located there. The next one is on Tonight's Best. Forgot your list for items to observe or only have time for bright objects in a quick session? Tonight's Best will bold in white the items that are available for observing for you. This is what the menu looks like.

Planets is the next menu item I'll review. The menu shows again those planets that are available for viewing (Jupiter and Mars for me right now) and then takes you to an information page that shares some good information on the planet. Here is Jupiter's and I've scrolled down to show the naming of the bands and that will be followed with a sample of Mar's information.

Here is a sample of the Mars Info page.

I really like this feature with the planets and can see some great use for this at Star Parties when your showing off a planet and that question comes up that you just haven't prepared for. It's probably in here.

The next items are Moons and Asteroids but I am not including a shot on them. The next image has to do with Comets which shows again a bold white face for comets that are available and then a specific info page for the comet. Check the magnitude because even though they might be in white bold doesn't mean you will see them when they are magnitude 24.

The comet specific information page.

The next items I also did not record an image for from the Search Menu but they are Satellites, Named Stars, Brightest Stars and Nearest Stars. Here is an image for a star which I did take.

The next set of images are a treasure trove as the program really allows one to get into Double Star. I am hoping to use this next week while observing some doubles from my backyard and using this in conjunction with the Cambridge Double Star Atlas. The Double Star Menu is much like the other menus I've shared, showing by white bold which pairs are viewable based on location in the sky, not by magnitude. Want to know about a pair or if you can see it, click on it.

By clicking on the double star's name you get this menu which provides quite a bit of information about the pair. Note that on all of these items on the specific page in the right hand corner is a button that allows you to add the item to one of your observing lists that you've created.

Now we come to some of my favorite objects, Deep Sky Objects. The menu is basically the same and it shows you what is available by its name, and NGC or Messier or Caldwell number and under that is what type of object it is, be it a spiral galaxy, an open cluster, a reflection or planetary nebula etc. I like this feature as it allows someone to either nail down what they want to see or at least have an idea of what they are going to see. Some come with the pretty image, some don't as per above.

All of the Messier Objects are next and since M1 viewable right now, the Crab Nebula I picked that as the object to show in this review. With the Messier objects in the detail or specific section you get a review of what you'll see and the historical background of the object. I don't like the naming on some of these, like calling M1 a bright nebula when it is a SN remnant. I do believe in the program though you can change the naming based on the period if you so choose.

Here is the specific or individual page for the Crab Nebula or M1

They have the Caldwell list in here as well but I won't post on that as I know many do not like that list for a variety of reasons, but its there if you want it. Just remember there are a fair number we can't see from North America.

The last image that I'll share from this section is on the Constellations. This program does an outstanding job on showing the constellation and on providing information on it in terms of myths and legends and in reviewing the notable stars, open clusters, nebula and galaxies that can be found there. Again a rich source to have at ones figure tips. The main menu is the same and here is the specific page.

The last portion that I'll review and I did not take images of this on purpose is the Settings Tab. In the settings and on the main menu you can choose to go into red mode. Here is what the red mode looks like with no adjustment to the brightness. The easiest way to do this is by tapping the night button at the bottom of the screen.

Settings is where you can control a lot of what is going on in the actual program. You can set the Date and Time if needed, set your location, coordinates and the format that the time is displaed. You can make your horizon and sky realistic, show the horizon and the sky, and many options under that. You can also choose from 7 locations for your panoramas. Also here you can show the planets and decide if you want grids, to allow their phases to be seen (default on that is one as is show the planets) and show their surfaces (default is on) with their names (default on) and then their orbits and their moon orbits which is defaulted off.

You can also under Solar System choose to display Asteroids, Comets, Satellites and their names. These are defaulted as off when the program is launched the first time.

Stars is the next tabl and I like this. It shows the stars as default option and then allows you to pick the magnitude in which you can see stars naked eye. I really like this feature. The program allows you to choose to show the names, proper names, Greek Symbols, Name Density and Double stars.

Deep Sky again allows you to limit your Deep Sky to well known objects only (default is off thank goodness) or to show in wide fields (default is off) and to pick the magnitude limit that you can see DSO's naked eye. You can also select which object type you want displayed in case your working only a specific type. These types include open clusters, globular clusters, bright nebulae, dark nebulae, planetary nebula and galaxies.

In settings you can make the Milky Way pretty realistic, or just an outline or a filled area or not show it. You can make it more or less intense based on how you see it from your site. Constellations allow you to choose as traditional outlines, as modern outlines (like H.A. Rey) as the Mythical Figures or as official boundaries. You can show their names or use abbreviations and you can show asterims and their names. Finally you can save this as your own setup and name it, or create multiple setups if you observe from multiple places with variances. The default option is there unless you delete it.

That is a quick summation of the program with screen shots to hopefully show it off. What do I like about this program? It is very similar to Starry Night Pro and it is on my iPad. I like that a lot because I like the screen size of my iPad. I like that the stars go as deep as I need them to and I can actually use this as an atlas in the field as long as I can dim it down enough. I also like the fact that the compass control allows me to use it or shut it off and use my finger to move the pad around the sky. If I am at the eyepiece and I want to use it I can close or patch my observing eye and then read it with my right eye without the compass getting in the way.

I also like the fact that it is rather easy to use and figure out. I have to admit, it has replaced StarMap Pro as my favorite Astronomy App for its practical use and the ease of the setup in settings and in finding objects. I love the amount of detail this program gives and it does it in a way that provides meaning to me as an observing. RA, Dec, visual magnitude, size and a lot more information is readily accessible.

What don't I like? Not much. I still want a program that allows me to record my observations on my iPad2 and that allows me to enter in my format for my observing log so I can enter the data quickly. That's me being picky. I'll see how it works in the backyard next week and report back. Overall, there really isn't much not to like here. I give it 5 out of 5 stars and was worth the $11.99 I paid. Not sure I would pay the $60.00 for the pro version unless it was for my laptop.

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