Bias, Sky Safari 4 and A Visual Observer's Review

     Bias. Everyone has bias' and the key to having them is to admitting them upfront to others and being as honest as we can about it. In this hobby I see a LOT of bias, bias toward eyepiece or telescope brands, bias toward equipment used, bias to the purpose of an astronomy club, bias to programs used in the hobby.  Even I have bias' and I openly admit them. I am bias in what I think of outreach. I do outreach from time to time, and I show objects and let people view them and tell them about them. To me though, true outreach is teaching people how to use an atlas, to manipulate a telescope to find an object and then to see it in the eyepiece. THAT is how you grow this hobby, doing things like that. So yes, I have a bias, a huge bias on that and I will never lose that bias. I have a bias towards telescopes. I love my Dobstuff telescopes and will put them up to any premium telescope out there. Yes, I do some extra work on my scopes each season to get them where I want to be for the conditions of that season (I have four seasons here in Utah, each with their own requirement on my equipment) but I am content.  I own a 24" so called premium scope that I also enjoy and is also fantastic. Sure cost me a LOT more.  So yeah, my bias has been and is that you can get into this hobby and use decent to premium equipment and find enjoyment, fulfillment and excitement IF your USING what you have and own on a regular basis.  I would take someone's opinion and recommendation on objects who are observing with a 12" Zhumell dob observing 2 to 5 times a month, and really observing over someone with a Teeter, or StarStructure, Obsession, Dobstuff etc. dob who only really observe deep once every few months and the rest of the time look at the eye candy objects of that season. Nothing is wrong with either, but if I am wanting someone to confirm what I am seeing, I want that observer who is practicing on a regular basis to confirm.

     I have software bias' also.  I use to love using Starry Night Pro 6 to print and track my observations.  I tried Starry Night Pro 7 and as I have stated here, it was such a major disappointment that I began looking for alternatives. If found it in Sky Tools 3 and LOVE that program! In this case one bias, and a building of disappointments led me to a new bias and a new piece of software that I use weekly and enjoy to the max.!

     There are other bias' that I have, because like you, I am a complex and dynamic individual whose past life and current life experience have forged me to be who I am right now. Perhaps the last bias I will mention is on the use of technology versus paper. I will state up front I LOVE technology. As a professional educator I have used and use technology to teach and to get students to inquiry and discover how to use technology to learn and show how they have learned. That is my career right now. to help other educators to do that. Having said that, I LOVE books, I love paper that you read. My father, rest his soul, gave to each of his children a vast love of books and reading. That has stuck with me all my life and is a bias. I read electronically (books, magazines, articles) but if I really want to get my teeth into something, I get a printed copy.  So in the hobby of astronomy, I have used and own a variety of atlases to help me star hop on my telescopes. It is why I have Sky Tools 3 (one reason) to print off star charts or use a laptop to show me how to hop to an object in the field. I have taken that experience now, and translated it to my observing in another way.

     Sky Safari 4 is a program I own both for my Apple devices, and for my Android Nexus and HTC phone I have. Sky Safari is owned by Simulation Curriculum, the same company now that owns Starry Night.  That worries me because of the mess of Starry Night Pro that I went through.  However, I have to say that for now I am quite happy with Sky Safari 4 and using it in the backyard when I observe there. I have yet to muster the courage to use it when observing deep sky in the field. I still have either my charts or Sky Tools 3 on my protected laptop though I admit, you'll find me with a printed chart in a binder probably ninety-percent of the time. I may take the leap this next trip out in August if weather permits for trip.

     So in this review of Sky Safari 4 and the screen shots I took of the program on my iPod Mini, I am stating up front I am not going to cover ALL the features of this program. I am at current, a visual observer only and thus I am going to cover the parts of the program that I feel touch on visual observing. If your an imager or looking to use the program to control your telescope, I apologize, I won't be covering those aspects and several other.


   I'll begin above with a view of the Help Screen. The help screen is accessed on the menu bar which is located at the bottom of the screen. I have turned my iPad mini so that I have more of a horizontal view to the screen, rather then the vertical view.  Once in the help menu you can cover a wide amount of material from Sky Chart Help, to Search Help, to Observing Lists Help etc. You can see in the image what is available. Why start with help? As someone who teaches adults how to use technology, one of the most often looked over parts of any software is the help menu. I would estimate that 70% or more of most issues that arise in a software, are answered in the help. So don't be afraid to use the help! This is also where you can see the version which on my iPad Mini is Version

The next area I want to touch from the menu, is the search function, all the way on the left part of my screen on the bottom. Here you can look for objects and it narrows it down to Tonight's Best, a great function for an unplanned observing night in the backyard or in the field! I love this feature because it allows someone like me, who plans out each observing night, the chance to be spontaneous and to just go for a fun evening! You can search by category or by subject, like Messier, Deep Sky, Double Stars or Variable Stars etc.  A fun way to both plan a night or be spontaneous as I said and just go have a fun night!

This is a sample of tonight's best which I took on July 27th, 2015 from my home location. Here you can see the object, and you can click on it and gather information about it.  In the left hand bottom you can click Center which will then center Sky Safari 4 on the object. Objects in white bold are available to view currently, and the objects that are grey and not in bold are not observable at this time.

Above is the settings menu where you can go in and adjust your formats for date and time, chagne the appearance, put in a horizon or remove it, and go through the objects listed to have the program put out on the screen the objects you've selected for display.  In the Constellation you can pick a modern view or a traditional Ray's view or put the classic art on them.  It is here you add your equipment as well.  There is much in the menu part of the program to play with, to adjust and ensure that the program works as you want it to.  In Display you are able to control the brightness of the screen, both in normal and in red light. Even at its dimmest settings you may want to consider putting some red barrier over it to dim it a little more as I feel it is still light enough to impact night vision.

To give an example here you can see the Blinking Planetary Nebula in Cygnus in normal mode. You can also see the menu at the bottom of the screen and the subjects covered there. If you are connected, the Sky & Telescope Feature is most helpful, but in the field I would lose that.  Help is to the far right and then comes the moon or Night which turns on the red screen, then compass which allows you when on and connected to the internet to point the iPad or your device to the sky and have it reflected in the screen. Turn off compass for manual manipulation of the screen.   Orbit puts in orbit around the earth with no horizon.  Scope connects your device to your scope for control purposes. Time lets you select now, a month or week or day from now etc. Settings I covered above and Center allows you to center an object you have selected by tapping your finger on it. Here is a negative for me. I have short, fat fingers and it is hard for me to use my finger to "tap" on a target. I have a stylus that works just fine though but it means taking it in the field and not losing it there.  A small negative! Info I will cover shortly and then the search.  On the far left and right are a - on the left and a + on the right. This allows you to zoon in or out.

Here you can see the same screen as the image right above, but with it now in the red light.  This is around 50% brightness.  I will be going back on objects to normal and red view so you can see the differences.

Above is the finder chart I would use for this night for going after the Blinking Planetary Nebula. Then as I approached I would zoom in with my fingers on my device until I had the previous two images and then hop to the object.  This feature is fantastic for star hopping and using visually.

Above you can see a rather large field of view of the Milky Way and of Scorpius and Sagittarius. I have it set up to show the planets and you can see the location of Pluto here as well as the major stars. This is a major benefit as a planisphere is no longer needed, and you can now use your device to learn the constellations and the stars in the constellations if your so inclined. If not, you can now figure out right in the backyard or field how to star hop to an object and zoom in on it. Cool!

Here I have zoomed into Scorpius and you can see Antares and M4 off to the left, and other stars and objects here. I love the convenience of zooming in and out and then really getting into the objects you want to see. There is more than just the eye candy here, and you really can get down to some faint objects. However, there are limits and still, there are objects like Sharpless 2-091 (see below) that just are not going to show up in this program. Ablerio and it's companion show up nicely, but go up to 9 Cygni and no SNR will be visible.

This is a closer zoom in view of Hercules and specifically I am going after M13 here. This also shows something I need to go in and figure out how to work with or eliminate and that is I had tapped on the screen and captured a star, TYC etc. instead of M13.  No biggie as I will take my two fingers and just zoom in.

Bam! As I zoomed in I can see M13 coming into view at about 33% of brightness.

A few more zooms and I am there, M13 starring right back at me! I can see this as a great way to show someone what it is your going after, and as I will show, share some information about the object and then have them actually look at the object in the eyepiece. It is a great way if possible to share information at a star party while people are waiting at the eyepiece. Again, the more we can get them to discover and learn, the better off they are and the more excited they become!

The two images above show what happens when on a object and hitting the info button on the menu for that object. You get more data than you probably want about that object. However, if your smart, you'll take a note or two on the most important elements and share them with others and yourself. There are a couple of apps that would allow you to capture the key information and put it down if your want to do that. Again, a TON of information is located here. This is an excellent feature of the software.

 Having said that, the Veiil Nebula shows up nicely in the progam and can be useful when trying to observe some of the fainter portions of this wonderful SNR.

One last hop. We zoom in on Cygnus and from Deneb hop down to Sadr.  From here we can zoon in and see the star hop to a wonderful object, the Crescent Nebula, NGC 6888, an emission nebula coming from stellar winds from Wolf Rayet Star 136.

So there. I said I wouldn't be covering all the features and I haven't. I have shared enough of the program though to get my mind thinking and I know that this is a wonderful tool to supplement (okay, I can say it, maybe, re p  NO, yes I can repl, no! replace, there I said it) an atlas IF your going for the eye candy to the medium faint objects.  There is enough here to keep you busy if you have a 10" or larger scope for a very LONG time. I love its potential to be used at Outreach because even though some of us love to remember details on so many of these objects, in the world we live in, and in the world that is evolving often it is not important to have the fact, rather to be able to access the facts. Sky Safari 4 does that quite well. 

My verdict? It is a wonderful tool that does go on sale from time to time, so if you can nab it on sale, go for it. I have the Pro version and it works quite well for me. I need to start bringing my observing up into the 21st century and this is a wonderful tool to do so. I could see that if I combined this with say Sky Commander, I just might not need an atlas again and I would spend more time on my objects and less time finding them. I like the hunt, and doubt I will ever give it up, and even when I had a goto system, I didn't use it a lot, but there are times when you only have a short time that it can prove useful. Sky Safari 4 is similar and can help reduce clutter in your car when you go to observe, won't fly away or fly open in a slight breeze, and really is an excellent tool to use. I just hope that it stays this way by Simulation Curriculum in the future. If not, there will be a hole to fill by someone who wants to design an excellent app and put it out there. I hope that doesn't happen. 

Next Blog Entry: A Look Back, A Look Forward: Jay's Sketching. 

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