Sky Tools

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Secrets of the Deep Sky

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SkyTools, which should be in Version 3 by the time this book is published, was not the first planner, but it quickly became a favorite. In fact, it's one of the best astronomy programs of any kind. There's a good reason for that: its powerful capabilities.

SkyTools boasts millions of deep sky objects, millions of stars, and feature after feature ranging from telescope control to downloading stars from the USNO database to drawing charts that compete with or exceed anything found in print atlases.

Our favorites among this soft's many features? It's a tie. One thing great about SkyTools is its "Nightbar," which is a graphic representation of sky darkness and the altitude of a chosen object. Although other programs offer similar displays, none are as easy to decipher or as versatile as the Nightbar. Then there are the charts. Although not as "pretty" as those in Starry Night Pro Plus, perhaps, they are close in that department, and the program's printed output is far better. Truth is, there is not an astronomy program of any kind that prints better than SkyTools. What's the most outstanding thing about this planner? Its solidity. SkyTools is marketed directly by its author, Greg Crinklaw, but it does not have a "garage" feel to it. It doesn't crash or hang up. It operates smoothly and reliably and feels more like Microsoft Access than something your brother-in-law cobbled together on his bedroom PC.

Quibbles? Not many. First, if the standard Windows user interface is what you're after, forget it. Crinklaw has his own take on how a UI should be laid out, and that does not consist of the same old "File," "Edit," "Window," and "Help" menus. He goes his own way, so be prepared to do some book learning (via the program's "how do I" tool; there is no printed manual). After a while Crinklaw's way of doing things doesn't just seem OK; it seems better. Anything else? The program's charting facilities are good but a bit difficult to use. That's because everything can be changed and rearranged, something I find confusing, but which more computer literate astronomers will no doubt appreciate. Finally, although the program offers go-to scope control by means of internal drivers, users have to pay for that privilege. Go-to is in the form of an add-on extra-cost module, SkyTools Real Time, which is included with the program but which must be paid for before it can be "unlocked."

Ready to buy? SkyTools, which, like Deepsky, is currently Windows only, is somewhat more expensive than the other planners at $100. Most CAT users will definitely want to unlock Real Time, too, which adds another $40 to the price for a total of $140. Expensive, perhaps, but it is still cheaper than some big-name astronomy programs that do far less than SkyTools.

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