The next update to TheSkyX is getting very "pregnant" and should be out soon. There is some really cool new hotness coming for T-Point, but I'm not working directly on that, and I won't steal Daniels thunder on that little gem. What I do want to talk about is some new OpenGL technology that is making it's debut in this update. Moving forward, we (well, I) are going to be adding incrementally some OPTIONAL GPU (that's the graphics card) accelerated rendering technologies. Today's graphics cards can do floating point math far faster than your CPU can (ah, remember the days when you'd add a floating point co-processor to speed up your astronomy software?), and this has applications for graphics, as well as some other things.... stay tuned ;-) Well, back to the debut new feature for TheSkyX, I've made a custom albedo map of the moon (mostly recycled from Seeker work), and some of the new digital elevation data now coming out of all these new moon missions. I've created what in the OpenGL world we call a "Normal Map" for the surface of the moon, and using that I can create a more realistically rendered image of the moon. It's not EXACTLY the same as the view through the telescope or your camera, but it is much closer than anything we've done before, and I hope you'll like it. In the attached image, I've included three views of the moon from March 31, 2010. The first image on the left is a photograph I took of the Moon on that evening. Next is the new GPU shader rendered version of the Moon, and finally on the right is the old way we rendered the moon.
It's important to point out, that the "old way" is still in there. In fact, we don't think the majority of our customers are going to have OpenGL 3.0 or later graphics cards and drivers right away. But those that do, will get a view of the moon that was not possible with the older graphics technology. Speed up time why don't you... you can watch the craters come up and out of the flat surface and the shadows change as the suns angle changes. While the terminator doesn't EXACLY look the same, I think over all this is a much better approximation of how the moon looks.
Which brings me to another improvement to the Moon display. I myself am a big lunar observer and photographer, and of course I had quiet the collection of full lunar disk images to look at while working on this. What I found was that our libration calculations was not quite "there". This was very difficult to see and validate with the old Moon view, but the new rendering was close enough to the photographs that it was much easier to see for example that Mare Crisium was a bit too far away from the limb for this date. So, there you go, it's not just prettier, it's actually more useful if you're also a lunar observer!
Poor Seeker... I know you probably think I've forgotten you, but I haven't. I've had a new update "almost" ready to go for a while now and I promise I'm going to spend some time there to tie up all the loose ends. It's actually going to be a pretty Hefty update too... more on that next time.
01-25-2011 12:56 PM