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TheSky HD Gets an Upgrade!
Richard S. Wright Jr.'s Blog

Version 1.2 of TheSky HD for iPad is now live on the Apple App store, and boy is it a major update! Here's a summary of the new "stuff":

  • Support for the Paramount MYT via WiSky Wi-Fi adapter
  • One star polar alignment wizard for Paramount mounts
  • Weather site shortcuts
  • IP camera support/viewer
  • Integrated FITS viewer
  • New imaging planning tools
  • Integration/coordination with TheSkyX Pro

Item #1 needs no further explanation, and bullet #2 has been discussed in two other recent blog entries. Bullet #6 and #7 are huge and only the tip of the iceberg for what's planned so I'm going to talk about them last.

The weather shortcuts and the IP camera support are really the same feature, just packaged differently for convenience. They are both available via the new "Tools" menu on the left hand side of the bottom toolbar.

Tools menu.

They allow you to enter a list of URL's and the implementation is just a simple web view that displays the web page at the selected URL. You can collect your favorite weather sites in one easy to find location and not have to leave TheSky HD to check on the weather.

Weather monitor.

The IP Camera view works the same way, and you could even setup an IP based video camera for viewing with a telescope. Since these are just URL collections, I imagine users will find a lot of novel uses for this that allows them to stay within TheSky HD and still access web content (like, say our support forum!).

IP camera monitor.

The FITS viewer has multiple applications. FITS is the international standard for astronomical imaging, and is the native format for saved images taken with TheSkyX/Camera Add On. For starters, you can now add FITS files to your apps files section, just like you might add additional .SDB's or extra databases.

You can drag them in or add them manually using iTunes file sharing screen shown here.

iTunes file sharing.

FITS files can be selected in two different ways (as well as downloaded from TheSkyX, which we'll talk about later). From the Tools menu, you can select "Fits Viewer", or from Settings/User Data. Both will present a list of FITS files that are currently on the device (these files are backed up by-the-way, when iTunes backs up your app data). You can also delete FITS files in both of these places by doing a left swipe on the files file in the table view. A red delete button will appear to confirm you want to delete the file. Once selected, the FITS viewer is displayed.

FITS Viewer.

A tab at the top allows you to switch between the image and the FITS header, there is a white and black point slider for adjusting the tone mapping, and you can pinch and pan the image with gestures. The view is fully OpenGL accelerated and you can view arbitrarily large FITS files, even those larger than would fit into RAM on the device!

The FITS viewer was my favorite feature until I got the planner finished. I use TheSky HD myself all the time to plan my imaging sessions using the field of view indicators. I was frustrated though because I didn't know really when the best time to shoot the object was, or for how long it might be well suited for imaging. I'd resort to using TheSkyX on a laptop, or fumble through changing the time in TheSky HD and then finding the object to see what it's altitude was at that time. Well no more!

The planner itself is available from the new Tools menu, but you'll also find a new button, "Plan+" available on every find popup (regardless of if you searched for the object or selected it by touch on the main screen).


The Plan+ buttons adds the object to your planner list of targets and opens the main planner view. These objects are saved to the device so they are remembered between runs of TheSky HD automatically.

Visibility Planner.

On the left hand side you'll see a list of targets, and their transit times. You can remove objects with the familiar left swipe gesture, or clear them all with one button (be careful with this!). There's also a frame button that will frame up the object immediately in the main sky view with your field of view indicator. The real jewel here is the graph display. It shows the elevation of both the sun and moon along with any object selected on the left. Two vertical sliders show the time and can be touched and dragged left and right. Also displayed are the times of twilight, and the duration of astronomical twilight (the best time for imaging). Also included are two sets of +/- buttons for advancing or going back a day or a month at a time. Hmm... cutting it close, will there still be an opportunity to get time in on this object next new moon? Now, you can know easily. The shading of the sky portion between twilights is even brighter when the moon is out. There's still some room on this view for more features, and I have some great ideas for future releases. If you have something you'd like to see here, by all means let me know!

Finally, we come to what is without question the most complex new feature in TheSky HD, and one that has nearly unlimited potential as this evolves. You can now connect to a running copy of TheSkyX on another computer and send it commands. Currently, you can slew a scope this way, and you can take an image and display it in the FITS viewer. What's next after this is probably pretty obvious... stay tuned!

First things first though, how do we set this up and get it working. For starters both your iPad and your laptop/desktop running TheSkyX have to be on the same network. The desktop does not have to be on Wi-Fi specifically, but it's IP address should be visible to the iPad, which should be on a Wi-Fi network that is shared by the desktop. The SkyX can actually be on the Internet and on the other side of the world! All you need is the IP address of the computer. There are several ways to set this up. The easiest is to setup an ad hoc network with your laptop and write down it's IP address or machine name. The 100 ways to setup a network is a bit beyond the scope of this blog...

So, assuming your iPad and desktop/laptop are on the same network, what do you do next? In TheSkyX Pro, under the Tools menu, you'll find an option "TCP Server". Select that and click on the "Listening for Connections" checkbox.

TCP Server.

(While this TheSkyX feature has been around a while, you'll need the latest Daily Build to make use of some of the new features added for TheSky HD). Now TheSkyX is listening for and accepting commands via a network socket. On the iPad, we need to setup our "Server" and point it to this instance of TheSkyX. You'll find this under Settings/Server on the iPad App.

Server configuration.

You'll see the server can be configured to be just a telescope mount (the default), or your copy of ACP, or a running instance of TheSkyX. When you've selected TheSkyX as your server connection, the Telescope icon on the main display changes to show "TheSkyX".

TheSkyX icon.

Here you'll put in the IP address or network name of your computer running TheSkyX, and presumably also connected to a mount and camera. For those who have been following my blogs for a while now, this is the beginnings of that "SkyBox" project I've written about in the past where you'll do your imaging from an iPad connected to an embedded copy of TheSkyX running on a Linux box of some kind...

To connect to TheSkyX, tap the Icon on the top toolbar. The full screen connection dialog will be mostly blank until you click the "Connect" button. Once connected, you'll get status information about the copy of TheSkyX you've connected to, and a list of configured devices including information about which ones are connected and which one's are not.

Server configuration.

When you connect to TheSkyX from the iPad app, TheSkyX will attempt to connect to all the devices, so if any of them do not show connected here, you should check your wiring, power, etc. Simply disconnect and reconnect to attempt again. Devices are not automatically disconnected when the iPad app is closed or you disconnect from the server. The reason is you may want to start an image run; you do not want to have to stay connected in order for the run to complete... this kind of thing is coming soon... but the idea is the remote mount/computer is your robo-astro-butler and you do not want to have to maintain contact with it in order for it to keep working. 

Touch a device in the table view to get more information about the item, or to make changes to it's settings. Currently, only the camera has any options for it, but here you can change the temperature control, view the last image, or take a single image. Taking a single image is also available from the Tools menu on the main screen of TheSky HD.

Remote camera control.

This screen allows you to set the bin mode, the exposure time (both a quick time selection, and an edit control are available), and if you have a filter wheel, filter selection is available here too. When you start an exposure, the "Take an Image" button displays a count down timer, and when the image is complete it is automatically transferred from TheSkyX in the background. You get the full FITS file too, not just a preview and the FITS viewer embedded here is the same as the general purpose FITS viewer discussed previously. Also, you do not have to stay on this view while an exposure is running. You can close this view and go back to your star chart. When an image is ready, a message will blink overlaid on the sky chart that the remote exposure has completed (it also does this then when you slew remotely to let you know the remote mount has completed the slew operation). Going back to take image view will display the current image. You can also change the cameras temperature settings and monitor its current temperature and power consumption (for cameras that report this information).

Camera temperature control.

This is a substantial update to TheSky HD and it has been a long time in coming. The goal is to have more frequent updates now, perhaps monthly, as more capabilities are grown on the foundation these new features have laid. Bugs and performance issues will also be addressed, and watch for more automation-type features to start showing up now that TheSkyX can be our "Robot-Astro-Imaging-Butler" (RAIB? Nah... too many acronyms in this business already!)


Posted 12-18-2014 9:53 AM by Richard Wright


Charles Walker wrote re: TheSky HD Gets an Upgrade!
on 12-20-2014 8:12 AM

Feature request- Provide an ability to sort objects in the planner based on transit times and whatever else may be important to folks. Also, provide the ability to show more than one object in the graph.

Nicely done, thanks.

Richard Wright wrote re: TheSky HD Gets an Upgrade!
on 12-21-2014 9:41 PM

Thanks for the suggestions Charles.. they sound like good ideas. Multiple objects on the graph might be tricky. Each line would have to be a different color, and it could get messy quickly. The computation are cached though, so switching back and forth should be very fast.


TAMU wrote re: TheSky HD Gets an Upgrade!
on 01-06-2015 8:17 AM

Downloaded TheSky HD v1.21 the other day. I am able to connect to TheSkyX Pro (Mac) in all of our observatories and control the mounts, imaging cameras, filter wheels and focusers. I can even connect to remote operations in Chile. Each TCS has the latest daily build of TheSkyX Pro (Version 10.3.0 Build 8497 at the time of this writing).

The CCD camera grabs an exposure fine; unfortunately, the app fails to download the FITS image to the iPad and presents an error regardless of whether or not the iPad is on the same network as the TCS computer running TheSkyX Pro.

It also will not control the guide camera whether or not the system is setup to use the internal guide detector or an external camera. I had hoped to purchase iPads and TheSky HD for our students to have full access to the mounts and cameras remotely.

Richard Wright wrote re: TheSky HD Gets an Upgrade!
on 01-06-2015 9:28 AM


I'm sorry about this. It appears a critical tweak required in TheSkyX for this feature did not make the last daily build like I thought it had. It's simply TheSkyX is not serving the image back. The next posted daily build will have this enabled.


Charles Walker wrote re: TheSky HD Gets an Upgrade!
on 01-07-2015 7:00 PM

Two more feature requests, if I may? Include telescope move buttons similar to those in the telescope tab in TSX, including diagonal buttons. Maybe on a separate page so you can make them big enough for real fingers. Also, provide a battery life percentage meter so you don't have to leave the app to see when your iPad is going to die.

Still, thanks for a great app.

Richard Wright wrote re: TheSky HD Gets an Upgrade!
on 01-10-2015 8:58 AM

I'll see if there is an API to query the battery life. An alternative is to allow the top bar to display, perhaps on the iPad a few less pixels vertically wouldn't be that bad...

As for the buttons for moving the scope, they are when connected via WiFi for visual use. As an imaging client, they aren't really useful... perhaps though, a "jog" mechanism might be really what your are looking for?

cdavmd wrote re: TheSky HD Gets an Upgrade!
on 01-12-2015 7:00 AM

Is it still on the app store?  I only see version 1.1 on the apple app store.


Richard Wright wrote re: TheSky HD Gets an Upgrade!
on 01-12-2015 7:57 AM

Because we use Location Services, we had to update the app to require iOS 8.If your still running 7, this might be why the older version is still the only one available to you.



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