Monday, November 12, 2007

The Last Piece

For some time now we've been testing/developing the new Database Power Search on a tab-by-tab basis. Last week I released the new Comets search tab to the test group, and the week before that it was the new Asteroid search. Together they should provide a very interesting tool for mining the databases. For instance, you can filter by asteroid type, such as "Aten" or "Apollo" or "Damacloid." Classifying asteroids and Trans Neptunian Objects by the orbit type is one of the cooler things I've added under the hood, and it's been fun trying to make the most if it. The comet search will be useful for finding out which comet your Grandma saw in the summer of '32 or to look for comets with similar orbits. But of course paramount is always the intelligent selection of observing targets. To aid with that I have added a new Visual Detectability filter and for double stars there is a new Splittability filter. These filters rely on the models I developed to predict the visibility of an object in the eyepiece, and how difficult it will be to split a given pair. Visual observers can use these filters to find "difficult pairs" or "easy" deep sky objects based on their inputs such as date, location and instrument.

At first glance the new DPS looks a lot like the old one, but it soon becomes apparent that it's been supersized. I've tried to make small improvements across the board that together add up to something a lot more powerful.

With the DPS done except for a few bug fixes, over the weekend I took up the last piece of the Standard Edition of ST3. I originally called it the Observing List Generator then decided it was an Observing List Wizard. The thing has been evolving so quickly that naming it was a waste of time. It's been part of the Database Power Search, a separate tool, and as late as last night I was considering an entire new tab on the planner for it!

One way or another by the end of this week it is going to exist outside of my imagination. I think you will all like it. Basically it allows you to quickly create a list of objects to observe on a specific night. The gold standard all along has been that it's 4:00 PM and there's a public star party tonight and you are in charge of having something to show people. "SkyTools, help! I'm in a hurry. Just give me a list!" It does more than that, but this particular application has been the driving force behind the tool. Wish me luck!

Now a word about where we are at: after this last tool is released to the testers I'll still have a lot of loose ends to tie up. There are some bugs that still need fixing and a lot of little things that need smoothing over or to be brought up to par with the rest of the program. So my plan is to call a hiatus for the test group for the month of December. I'll go about getting everything finalized and after the first of the year we will have a real beta test. That should not take long. I will also get the Real Time tool ready and we will start a new test as soon as possible, perhaps even concurrently with the other test. When that's done I want to meet with interested imagers and together we will finalize the imaging features for the Pro Edition. The good news is that SkyTools is like a big pyramid and all this stuff is that little part at the top. So I am hopeful we will see a release early next spring.