Overview

SkyView software is used for determining the positions of the sun, moon, planets, stars and other astronomical bodies in the sky from the user’s location. It is designed to allow the observing parameters, such as date, time and location to be easily changed so that changes in an objects position in the sky can be studied.

The main aim to writing this software, was simply to understand the processes and computations involved to achieve this.

 SkyView is a 64 bit application, and is available for download from the Microsoft Store for Windows-10.

An MSI installation package of SkyView is also available upon request, for installation on Windows-7.

Go to https://www.microsoft.com/store/apps/9ngv90k7twq8 to download and install.

If you want a free download, please use this link that incorporates a promotional code. This promotional code is valid until they've all been used up. .. if none left, send me message and I will add some more.

Please give the software a rating, near the bottom of the Windows Store download page.

 

This current version is the first release and the accuracy of the computations seems to be quite good, but may be further refined later as required. Comparisons with other similar software generally show good agreement.

 

Quick Instructions

When SkyView first starts, the default view shows the Time menu on the left, a Sky Map plot in the center and a listing the sun’s location on the right.

On the left side, there are 3 tabs that correspond to Parameters, Location and Time.

 

Parameters Tab. This gives some parameters controlling the plotting on the Sky Map plot.  The effect of changing the parameters is not realized until returning to either the Location or Time tabs.

Location Tab. Enter the latitude, longitude and elevation for your desired viewing location. Location coordinates can also be derived by clicking on the Map. The data for five locations can be saved in the lower table.

Time Tab. This is where most of the action takes place. By default, the time is set to the value PC time when SkyView was started. The Time Zone setting is taken from the PC clock and cannot by changed within this software.

The values of year, month, day, hour, minute and seconds can be incremented by clicking on the arrows either side of the value for these items. By default, they will increment in steps of 1 unit but the increment for each can be changed by using the corresponding increment slider.

The arrows next to the date/time values can held pressed down to show a continuous update. An application for this, for example, would be to set the current time to one hour after sunrise, then hold down the “day” arrow, to observe how the sun rise location moves daily.

The “Automatic update” button allows the software to run un-attended. There are 2 parameters associated with Automatic Update, and they are selected from the underlying drop-down menu’s. The first parameter is the “plot interval”, which is the time difference between the successive plots. The default is real-time, which means the plotting time is taken from the PC clock and updated very second. All the other options take the time from the manually selected values. The values of increment sliders are also considered, as the plot time is recomputed. The second parameter is the plotting refresh interval.

 

More details on selecting a location

Clicking the UTM button, will expand the display to include the WGS84 UTM values, and allowing for the UTM to be computed from Lat-Long and vice-versa. To close the UTM display, simply click the UTM button again.

The map displayed is from the Microsoft Bing Maps API. An internet connection is required to view the map.

The Time Zone for a location is also determined for each location. The  "time-of-day" of the computed and plotted data is internally referenced to UTC time, so when the time zone is changed, the UTC time will remain unchanged and  the local time will get updated. There are 3 methods of determining the time zone.

The first time zone method is to use the PC clock. This method is probably only useful when you are selecting locations that are nearby to and in your local time zone.

The second and default method is to determine the time zone from the selected location, which returns the time zone value for either standard time or summer time (DST) depending on the time of the year. The input information are the latitude and longitude of the selected location. If a location is selected over the ocean, a time zone value computed from a 15 deg segment of longitude is returned. 

The third time zone method is to set the time zone value manually. This method would be used when there is no active internet connect, or in the rare case when the method 2 doesn't give a correct value.

Up to 10 sets of location data can be saved to the local computer, which will be automatically re-loaded when the app is next restarted. To save a current location setting, click on an empty cell, then select the Save button. If a cell already contains data, it will be over written. To restoring data from a cell, click on the cell to be restored, then select the Restore button.

Keys for the Bing Maps API

The map displayed is from the Microsoft Bing Maps API. This API requires an active internet connection, so if no internet connection is available then the map does not display or update. Additionally, an API key is required for it to function and a temporary key is embedded in the software.

It is possible that at some time in the future, the Bing Maps API key that is embedded in the software will cease to work, either due to expiration or over-use. You will see a message on the map saying "Invalid Credentials. Sign up for a developer account".

In that situation, you can obtain your own key from  https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff428642.aspx and load it from the option under the Tools menu. Use your regular Microsoft username and password.

This new personal key may become disconnected from SkyView software when you re-install or update SkyView, so will need to be entered again the SkyView Tools menu.

As far as I know, for fairly limited use, the Bing Maps key is free use up to a certain number of daily transactions (which is quite high), even though it is called a "billable key".  Although I dont believe there is any extra cost associated with getting a Bing Maps API key for low level usage, but if there is any extra cost, then this is extra and above any cost that may have been paid to acquire the SkyView app.

When obtaining a key, select Key Type=Basic and Application Type=Public Windows App (8.x and earlier). The Application Name is SkyView.

 

Sky Map plot

The Sky Map plot has a light blue background during the day time (when the sun is in the sky), and a light grey background during night time.

Clicking on an object on the Sky Map will do several things; (a) a red circle will appear around the object. Re-clicking on the object will remove the circle; (b) the listing will change to show information from the selected object, and (c) a Star Chart view will become centered on the selected object. If later the time is changed, the Star Chart will continue to stay centered on the selected object. The Star Chart will also follow the objects below the horizon. When region of the sky being viewed is below the horizon, the background becomes a light pink colour.

If the “shift key” is depressed when clicking on the Sky Map plot, then the Alt-Azim is selected instead of an object and the Star Chart will then stay locked onto the selected value of Alt-Azim, and will not follow any objects as the time is changed.

Clicking on the name of a star in the listing window will result in a small red circle to appear around that star. If the star was below the horizon when selected, then you’d have to advance the time until that star rises before it can be seen. Re-clicking on the star name will cause the red circle to disappear.

Checking the box labelled “Automatically flip to Star Chart”, will cause the Star Chart page to come up automatically if a star is selected either on the Star Map or from the selection list.

Clicking on the star name in the selection list whilst the “shift key” is depressed will rotate the sky until that star is at the meridian. That is, the time is changed so that the hour angle for that star is 360 degree. Be aware that there will be stars that will never be visible in the sky from your current viewing latitude (those that have a declination greater than negative value of your latitude). If you do want to view these stars, then select a latitude from the opposite hemisphere.

When clicking on a double star, the star selected may appear to be randomly one of either of the two components (assuming both components have a magnitude greater than the plot magnitudes). However, both stars will have slightly different locations in the catalogue, and clicking to one side of the star will consistently select the component that is to that side. For example,  Centaurus is a double star and clicking to the Centaurus side of  Centaurus will select the 1 component (Rigel Centaurus), and clicking on the other side will selected the  component.

The Auto Rotate options shown on the Star Chart will rotate the Star Chart such that the horizon is at the bottom and the will be directly above the centre of the plot. The other angles are fixed relative to the N, E, S & W directions; for example, a value of 90 means that the Easterly horizon is in the same direction as the lower edge of the plot.

 

Sky Chart plot

The Sky Chart plot has a light blue background during the day time (when the sun is in the sky), and a light grey background during night time. The Sky Chart can see the entire sky and when the view-able area is below the horizon, the background is colored light pink. There is an option to turn off the background coloring.

A single click on an object will cause the chart center on the object clicked. Note that only a single click is required.

If the SHIFT key is depressed whilst scrolling over the Sky Chart, then a pop-up with red text text will appear giving information on the star nearest to the mouse cursor.

A small scroll bar in the orientation box is used to rotate the Sky Chart when a fixed angle value has been selected.

 

A Brief Summary of Computations

Earth

Computations involving the earth are:

  1. Latitude and longitude computations. These are restricted to WGS-84 system current version.
  2. Julian day and sidereal time computations, along with Delta T corrections.
  3. Values of the Obliquity of the Ecliptic, Precession and Nutation.

Moon

  1. Compute location relative to Geocentric Ecliptic coordinates.
  2. Parallax correction (Diurnal).
  3. Atmospheric refraction correction.

Solar System, including the Sun

  1. Compute locations relative to Geocentric Equatorial coordinates using VSOP87C. Light time corrections are considered.
  2. Precession and Nutation corrections.
  3. Parallax correction (Diurnal).
  4. Atmospheric refraction correction.

Stars

The raw star location data is taken from the Hipparcus catalogue and corrected to J2000 Epoch The raw data from the Hipparcus catalogue is as viewed from the Barycentre of the Solar System. This data is used on the main Star Map.

Corrections are then applied for, in the order shown

  1. Proper motion.
  2. Annual Aberration.
  3. Precession and nutation.
  4. Annual Parallax
  5. Atmospheric refraction.

In the listings, the data shown under “ICRS 2000” have proper motion correction applied, while the data shown under “ICRS Corrected” have after additional aberration, precession, nutation and parallax corrections. The data shown under “Apparent” have additional atmospheric refraction corrections applied.

Diurnal aberration and diurnal parallax corrections are not computed for stars, as these are extremely small.

The zoomed in Star Chart plot has Proper Motion and Precessions corrected applied. These two corrections are the more significant long term corrections and are the only two that can be noticed on the scale of that plot. If you focus in on a nearby star such as Sirius and scan across several 100’s of years, then the effect of Proper Motion can be observed by noting that Sirius will move off the constellation lines which are only corrected for Precession effects.

For a more insight into the vales of the stellar corrections, go to the main menu and click on “View->Proper Motion, Aberration and Parallax Plots for a Selected Star”.

Right Ascension and Parallax

The only location that the stated value of parallax of a star will be equal to the apparent variation in RA over the year, is when that object is on the celestial equator. As the declination of the object increases the variation in RA will be greater than the parallax of the object. This occurs since the RA lines all converge together at the poles. For example, Rigel Centaurus has a parallax of 0.7548 arcsec, but its variation in RA over a 6 month period is 1.5 arcsec.

This phenomenon exists for all the corrections applied, and an extreme examples occurs for Polaris at around the year 2100, when it is closest to the north celestial pole.

 

 

Accuracies and Validation

The computations are validated by comparison to worked examples in Meeus, and comparison to other software such as CalSky, TheSkyX and Occult4. Some minor differences observed can be attributed to using algorithms of different accuracy, differing databases of starting parameters and different definitions. It’s noted that even the different software give different values from each other. Further follow up and understanding on these issues is ongoing.

  1. Earth computations. Good.
  2. Moon. As mentioned in Astronomical Algorithms by Meeus on page 337, the accuracy of the position of the Moon is approximately 10” in longitude and 4” in latitude.
  3. Solar system. Using VSOP87C.
  4. Stars. When the Proper Motion, Aberration, Precession, Nutation and Parallax corrections are applied, the accuracies of the Right Ascension and Declinations should be much better than 1 second of an arc.

The “Sky Map” plots. The stars on these plots have no corrections applied and are shown at J2000 Epoch.

The “Star Chart” plot. This objects on this plot are corrected for Proper Motion and Precession.

 

  

Earth Satellites 

The plots shown in the Earth Satellite window are a carry over from some earlier software called GPS Locator. At present, the processes in this window are not integrated together with the Star Map and Star Chart plots, but will be in a future release

The original GPS Locator software was used to predict the GPS and Glonass satellite coverage from an observer’s location. It was written to assist in determining how many GPS satellites were in view from the westerly facing balcony of my apartment, for use with the Blitzortung lightning detection network. 

Data from GPS, Glonass, Stations (ISS and Tian Gong), and Iridium satellites are plotted and listed. Other types of satellites may be added in future releases.

  1. A current version the satellite TLE files (Two Line Element) is required first, and this is done from the Tools -> Download Earth Satellite TLE's.
  2. The TLE data in these files will go stale after several weeks (or days), so it is good practice to download a refreshed version of these files at regular intervals. When StarView is started, it gives a summary of the age of the TLE data that is currently in use.
  3. Select the checkbox for the satellite types that you wish to show. GPS satellite will be shown in blue. Glonass satellites are in red. Stations are Aqua. Iridium are green.
  4. Trails before and after the satellite can be shown by checking the "Show Trails" box, and selecting the time duration. Note selecting trails will increase the computation load.
  5. A tabular list is also shown. The colored background depict when a satellite is above the observer’s horizon while the others are below the observers horizon (the Elevation angle is negative when below the horizon). Azimuth and Elevation are in degrees. The Range column is the distance in kilometres from the observer to a satellite.
  6. If you click on a Satellite in the listing, a black circle will be shown around it on the Satellite plot.
  7. Since the ISS is in a Low Earth Orbit, It will only be above the horizon for about 5 minutes, several times a day from any one location on the earth’s surface, so it is difficult to catch. Although it can pass overhead at any time of the day, it will only be visible either just before sunrise or just after sunset.

 

GPS locator  GPS locator

Plots from the earlier GPS Location software showing information for GPS (blue) and Glonass (red) satellites.

 

Determining times for passes of the ISS

In its current form, this software is not optimized for following the ISS. However, if you want to find when it passes overhead, then follow this procedure:
 
  • Check “Stations” checkbox.
  • Show 10 minute satellite trails.
  • Show the Stations list.
  • Set your Latitude, Longitude and Time Zone correctly.
  • Use the Time Advance button to search for when the ISS is above the horizon. Advancing at 10 mins at a time should be good enough. When you see a remnant of a satellite trail, revert back to 1 minute steps to find it. Also watch the elevation angle; if it approaches low negative values, then it is coming near to the horizon and may cross over to be above the horizon.
  • Check that it is the ISS; it should be aqua in the List. The other option is it could be Tiangong.

As mentioned earlier, most times when the ISS passes overhead, you will not be able to see anything. Only when it passes overhead within an hour or so of sunset/sunrise will you be able to see it.

 

 

References

  1. Astronomical Algorithms, 2nd Edition. Jean Meeus.
  2. Planetary theories in rectangular and Spherical variables. VSOP 87 solutions. P. Bretagnon and G Francou.
  3. Multi-Language VSOP87 Source Code Generator Tool. http://neoprogrammics.com/
  4. Explanatory Supplement to the Astronomical Almanac. P. Kenneth Seiselmann
  5. CalSky website. www.calsky.com
  6. TheSkyX software. http://www.bisque.com/sc/pages/TheSkyX-Professional-Edition.aspx
  7. Occult4 software. http://www.lunar-occultations.com/iota/occult4.htm
  8. Time keeping on Mars. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timekeeping_on_Mars?wprov=sfla1
  9. https://www.giss.nasa.gov/tools/mars24/help/algorithm.html

Version History

 

Version 2.1.7

6-July-2017

Minor enhancements.

 

Version 2.1.5

27-June-2017

Added support for Microsoft Bing Maps API, to allow selecting and viewing locations from a map.

Added support for Time Zones to allow automatic determination of time zones. Also quite a bit of reworking to accommodate time zone information within the app.

 

Version 2.0.40

28-May-2017

First good version released to the Microsoft Store. There were some earlier releases, but these were part of the learning process of using the Windows Store. The versions earlier than 2.0.40 require a separate installation of the Visual Studio 2015 X64 re-distributable. This should not be required for 2.0.40 or later.

 

 

 

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