The Sky 6Professional

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When it comes to astronomy software, do you need it all? Or just want it all? If the answer to either question is "yes," Software Bisque's TheSky 6 Professional may be just the thing. In addition to the now-common Hubble GSC, TheSky 6 Pro comes with databases containing over 1,000,000 objects in dozens of catalogs as well as pictures to go with many of these objects. But that's just the beginning. Need to operate a remote observatory dome, or acquire images with a CCD camera, or operate Bisque's "robotic" Paramount ME GEM? Pro will do all these things, seamlessly integrating with the Software Bisque programs designed for these tasks. Despite the fact that Pro is being used for some very serious tasks, often in professional observatories, don't imagine that it looks stodgy. TheSky s display is one of the most attractive in the business, featuring a beautiful Milky Way, real-looking stars, and photographic horizons (Plate 64). TheSky also provides extensive scope control facilities, either through its built-in scope drivers or the ASCOM program.

Does this power and sophistication come at a price? Sure it does. One is the cost in dollars for this top-of-the heap astro-soft: $280, which gives some amateurs pause. There is another "cost" involved with TheSky 6 Professional in addition to the monetary one—a fairly demanding need for computer resources. The photorealistic skies and other features do tend to make some machines pant a little. There's a way around the slow-downs, though: the pretty stuff can be selectively turned off, giving the oldest computers a leg up. A final "cost" is the program's fairly steep learning curve. Due to the nature of the audience this software is aimed at—advanced amateurs and professionals—TheSky6 Pro is almost infinitely customizable. Everything can be changed, even the constellation stick figure lines. The first confrontation between a new user and the program's "display explorer," where many of these changes are made, can be a confusing and even scary one.

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Yes, The Sky has a steep learning curve, but so does Microsoft Excel. Most computer users wouldn't expect to whip out multi-page workbooks on the first day with Excel, so why expect not to have to do some studying to learn an astronomy program as sophisticated and rich as TheSky 6 Professional?

Given the program's sophistication, it's a good thing it is thoroughly documented via a detailed manual and a fairly good help system. At this price level there probably should have been a printed manual, not just a pdf file, which is all that's included with Professional, though. To its credit, Software Bisque provides extensive support via both a Yahoo group and the company website.

Does TheSky sound interesting but the $280 kills it for you? The program comes in two "less advanced" versions that preserve much of what makes TheSky Pro great while dispensing with some of the more arcane features. TheSky Serious Astronomer Edition and TheSky Student Edition are beautiful and useful if not as awe-inspiring as Professional. TheSky 6 was "Windows only," as this was written, but Bisque was working on a new version, TheSky X, which will be also be available for Macs.

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