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5/26/2006
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Hot Apps: SkyMap Pro 11

Explore heavenly bodies (of the celestial kind) with awesome power, speed, and intuitive ease of use.

Serious and more casual astronomers alike will find SkyMap Pro 11 a wonderful app. It even is an excellent resource for high school and college students. I’ve watched the product mature during much of its 20 or so years of development.

What impresses me the most is that SkyMap presents an incredible data set and visual displays so instantaneously and easily that you can perform most of your astronomical research on a whim. “Instantaneous” fairly described the product’s responsiveness, even during a torture test on a Windows 98 testbed with just 64 MB of RAM…and this app has a huge database these days. Pursuing most of my personal whims, I didn’t even need to look at the help file, though that does contain extensive details when you want them.

SkyMap lets you view planets, stars, constellations, comets, asteroids, and more, then lets you use menu bars and toolbars to view the results from many perspectives. In short, click-click to see sky images the way you want to see them.

The product displays the sky from the viewpoint of any location on Earth for any date from 4000 BC to 8000 AD. You can check out views from the entire visible sky to a detailed, telescopic look at a faint galaxy. You can zoom in and out, and rotate a display to suit your inclinations.

You can display more than 15 million stars as faint as magnitude 15. SkyMap’s database includes more than 200,000 deep-sky objects. You can annotate your maps with text labels, lines or arrows, and more.

More advanced features include a search tool for the millions of objects in SkyMap’s database and the objects’ detailed information (which you can copy into other apps, such as word processors and email programs). The path of moving objects can be drawn and labeled with the date and magnitude at specified intervals -- great for asteroid and comet charting. Asteroid positions can be computed using free downloadable databases updated daily from Lowell ASTORB and Minor Planet Center’s MPCORB.

The awesome list of features goes on. And, based on my testing, accessing them is intuitive even for those of us who are amateurs. Click-click and you’re there. Often, there isn’t even enough time to pour your next cup of late-night caffeine … and you’ll find yourself curling up with many late nights with SkyMap as you gaze out your window at the sky.


SkyMap Pro 11
The Thompson Partnership
www.ttp.co.uk
Price: $129.95
Summary: SkyMap Pro makes exploration of the skies a joy for serious astronomers and older students alike

J.W. Olsen has been a full-time IT author, columnist, editor, and freelance book project manager with more than 1000 editorial credits since 1990, and has provided computer, Web site, and editorial services to clients since 1985. He welcomes feedback via the response form at www.jwolsen.com.

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