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FAQ — Frequently Asked Questions

This page contains answers to common questions handled by our support staff, along with some tips and tricks that we have found useful and presented here as questions.

Note: In these answers we will follow a few shorthand conventions for describing user-interface procedures. Key combinations will be presented like this: Ctrl+Alt+Delete, which means that you should press and hold down the Control key, the Alt key, and the Delete key at the same time. Menu selections will be presented like this: File |  Open, which means that you should open the File menu, and then make the Open selection.


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TheSky Astronomy Software

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General Telescope Topics

CCD Imaging Topics

If you don't see your term listed here, try our Definitions page.

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How do I Add a Dual-CCD Field of View Indicator?

TheSky Astronomy Software, version 4.00 for Windows

Some CCD cameras (namely, the SBIG ST-7 and ST-8) have two CCD detectors within the same camera body. The larger, primary detector is generally used for imaging, while the smaller, secondary detector is generally used for automatic guiding.

Because it is sometimes difficult to find an appropriate guide star for use with the secondary detector, it may be desirable to create field of view indicators to represent both detectors on the Sky Display. Following is a procedure for adding such a series of field of view indicators:*

  1. Use the View|  Field of View Indicators command to create a Field of View Indicator (FOVI) for your CCD camera's primary detector. For sake of illustration, we will assume an imaging system with a focal length of 2000mm. For an ST-7, this would yield a 7.92 x 11.88 arc-minute field of view. (See page 64 of TheSky User's Guide for information on using this feature.)
  2. For the rest of these steps, we'll let WP represent the angular width of the primary detector (11.88 arc-minutes in our example).
  3. Now add an elliptical FOVI to represent the inner arc of the secondary detector. For an ST-7, this arc has a height and width equal to 1.377 WP (1.377 x 11.88 = 16.36 arc-minutes for our example). For an ST-8, this arc has a height and width equal to 1.015 WP.
  4. Add another elliptical FOVI representing the outer arc of the secondary detector. For an ST-7, this arc has a height and width equal to 2.101 WP (24.96 arc-minutes for our example). For an ST-8, this arc has a height and width equal to 1.377 WP.
  5. Finally, a rectangular FOVI may be added to indicate the actual position of the secondary detector, relative to the primary. For an ST-7, this FOVI's height would be 2.101 WP, and its width would be 0.379 WP (24.96 x 4.5 arc-minutes for our example). For an ST-8, this FOVI's width would be 0.190 WP, and its height would be 1.377 WP.

*NOTE: The above values will yield an approximation of the secondary detector's position and rotational coverage, which should prove useful for all but the most exacting requirements.

See Using Field of View Indicators to Find a Guide Star for sample illustrations of this dual-CCD field of view indicator.

TheSky v5.00 includes a dual-CCD detector FOVI option, which eliminates the need to manually compute and create individual components.

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How do I Configure TheSky for a BBox or NGC-MAX?

The BBox and NGC-MAX (et. al) are both decoders which are commonly used in conjunction with TheSky. Before one of these decoders can be properly used with a telescope mount, it—as well as TheSky itself—must be configured for the appropriate encoder resolutions. Over the years, variations in both these decoders and TheSky have resulted in several configuration methods.

If you are having trouble determining exactly how TheSky and/or your decoder is to be configured, consulting the following tables should provide the answer. Simply find the listing for the version of TheSky you are using in the left column, then look across to the column headed by the decoder version you have. The letter shown at this junction corresponds to the appropriate configuration listed below.

  BBox version
TheSky version 0.93-1.10 1.71-1.72 2.00 3.03
2.00-5.00 for DOS a b c c
1.00<2.00 for Windows a b c c
2.00-2.03 for Windows a d c c
2.04-2.11 for Windows a d e e
4.00 for Windows 95 a d e e
5.00 for Windows 98 a d e e

 

  NGC-MAX version
TheSky version 2.93-3.13 3.50-3.52
All versions b c

a. Device has no configuration, TheSky uses actual tics/rev, clockwise.
b. Device is manually configured with encoder ratios*, TheSky uses 32768** tics/rev, clockwise.
c. Device is manually configured with actual tics/rev, TheSky uses actual tics/rev, clockwise.
d. Device is configured by TheSky with encoder ratios*, TheSky uses 32768** tics/rev, clockwise.
e. Device is configured by TheSky with actual tics/rev, TheSky uses actual tics/rev, clockwise.

*This encoder ratio is found by dividing 2048 tics by the actual resolution for each axis. For example, a 2160-tic encoder geared 2:1 results in an actual resolution of 4320 tics. Dividing 2048 tics by 4320 tics yields the requested ratio of 0.4740.
**Early versions of TheSky do not accept a value greater than 32767 (32768 is changed to -32768). In this case, use 32767.

NOTE: NGC-MAX versions 2.93-3.13 emulate BBox version 1.71. NGC-MAX versions 3.50-3.52 emulate BBox version 2.00. NGC-MAX units do not support configuration via the RS-232 port.

See our Encoder Polarity discussion for assistance in determining the appropriate polarity (clockwise/counter-clockwise) for your encoder system.

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How do I Connect my Telescope to my Computer?

(If you are experiencing difficulty connecting your telescope to your computer, see our Troubleshooting Guide.)

With the introduction of the BBox/SGT retrofit computerized pointing system (CPS) in 1989, Software Bisque revolutionized the personal computer-telescope relationship. In the nine years that have followed, the CPS has become very popular with amateur astronomers, and several manufacturers offer telescopes with a CPS built-in.

“TheSky Astronomy Software” supports about two dozen CPS's—including nearly every commercial unit available today. As the premier developers of   telescope-control software, we are frequently asked by hardware manufacturers to add support for a new system.

While the communications protocols vary widely, the hardware interface is usually one of the following two types:

RS-232—A cable is connected to the personal computer's serial, or "COM" port. Because of limitations inherent in the RS-232 specifications, the cable cannot usually be more than about 30m (100 ft.) long, though local conditions may reduce the operative distance. Data transmission rates are typically 9600 bps. This is the most common interface type.

Parallel—A cable is connected to the personal computer's parallel, or "LPT" port. Because of limitations inherent in the parallel specifications, standard cabling cannot usually be more than about 10m (30 ft.) long*, though local conditions may reduce the operative distance. This type of interfacing often allows for device daisy-chaining, in which another parallel device (such as some CCD camera models) can share the same port.

When considering the suitability of your personal computer for use with one of these interfaces, you should check that your computer has a port of the appropriate type available. Many portable computers have only one RS-232 port connector, which may be required for a mouse, or other device. Some portable computers have an internal modem which may need to be deactivated (through the operating system) to utilize the RS-232 port.

Regardless of the interface type, most manufacturers supply an appropriate cable for their CPS, although this is an option for some. If you don't have a cable (or its the wrong length), you can make one from documentation commonly provided with the CPS, or you may purchase one from us in off-the-shelf or custom lengths.

*Ask us about special, high-quality parallel cables available in custom lengths of up to 46m (150 ft.).

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How do I Determine Encoder Polarity?

Encoder polarity — usually expressed as positive/negative or clockwise/counter-clockwise — is affected by many factors. The following list covers those most commonly encountered in astronomical applications. Each factor is titled in a "[normal] or [reversed]" manner (the first-listed possibility is "normal", the second "reversed"). These are additive, so that an even number of reversing factors will result in normal polarity.

Factors Affecting Apparent Encoder Polarity

  1. R.A./Azm or Dec./Alt Axis. Most astronomical CPSs (computerized pointing systems) interpret each axis in an opposing manner. It is also worth noting that the R.A./Azm axis' polarity is referred to in an azimuthal sense, which runs opposite to R.A. measurement.

  2. Inward or Outward Facing. The encoder shaft can be made to face inward (toward the telescope) or outward (away from the telescope).

  3. West or East Bearing. The Dec./Alt encoder can oftentimes be mounted on either the West or East side of the mount.

  4. Odd or Even Gears. When gear-driven, an even number of gears causes the encoder to rotate in a direction opposite that of a direct or belt drive (all other factors being equal).

  5. Rotating or Static Shaft. Normally the encoder body is stationary, and the encoder shaft rotates. Sometimes the mounting is designed to keep the encoder shaft stationary, while the body rotates around it.

  6. A-B or B-A Wiring. The encoder can be wired with Channel A leading Channel B, or Channel B leading Channel A. If the encoders are wired with opposite sense, swapping them (axis-for-axis) will reverse the resultant polarity.

  7. Normal or Reversed Configuration. The decoder (e.g. BBox or NGC-MAX) can usually be configured for normal (positive/clockwise) or reversed (negative/counter-clockwise) sensing of each axis. This can be used to "normalize" an otherwise reversed encoder polarity.

  8. North or South Hemisphere. Southern Hemisphere operation results in an apparent polarity reversal of both encoders.

NOTE: The encoder mounting kits from JMI (which Software Bisque offers) are designed to be "normal", such that all encoders have positive/clockwise polarity — provided installation is followed correctly. Only Southern Hemisphere observers should need to configure TheSky for reversed (negative/counter-clockwise) polarity.

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How do I Label Objects?

TheSky Astronomy Software, version 4.00 for Windows

By default, most object labels don't automatically appear — you have to activate them. Following are explanations of how to activate labels for some of the common object types.

Common Names

Here are the items to check (you may discontinue as soon as you see the labels appear):

  1. The View|  Labels, Common Names should have a check mark next to it. If not, click on it to check it. You may alternatively use the View Toolbar's Common Names button.

  2. Make sure the desired data options (Stars, Constellations, etc.) are checked under View|  Labels|  Setup, Common Name Labels.

  3. Make sure the associated database (e.g. Constellation) appears with a preceding asterisk (*) in the Sky Databases list under Data|  Sky Database Manager. If there is no preceding asterisk, then select the database and choose Activate. If the database is not in the list, then use the Add/Remove Databases command to add the file to the database list.  Here are some commonly used Sky Database (.sdb) files:

    Labconst.sdb Constellation labels
    Labmess.sdb Messier object labels
    Labnst.sdb Common non-stellar object labels
    Labstar.sdb Common star name labels
  4. Make sure the associated Object Type (e.g. Constellation Figure) is set visible under the ViewFilters dialog.

Extended Labels

Here are the items to check (you may discontinue as soon as you see the labels appear):

  1. The View|  Labels, Extended Labels should have a check mark next to it. If not, click on it to check it. You may alternatively use the View Toolbar's Extended Labels button.

  2. Make sure the desired data options (ID, Magnitude, etc.) are checked under View|  Labels|  Setup, Extended.

  3. Make sure the Sky Display's field of view is 50, or less.

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How do I Install TheSky CD-ROM Entirely to My Hard Drive?

TheSky Astronomy Software, version 4.00 for Windows
(For version 5.00, Use Custom Installation and select everything desired)

The following procedures will install TheSky from a CD-ROM onto a computer which may not have regular access to that CD-ROM. The CD-ROM will not be referenced after this installation, as all data will exist on the local hard drive.  Please be aware that these procedures are only for use within the terms permitted by the License Agreement.

Option A
(Level II users; 12-18MB)

1. If TheSky v4.00 is already installed from the CD-ROM on the target machine, remove it using the Uninstall utility (Start / Settings / Control Panel / Add/Remove Programs).  If TheSky v4.00 is already installed from floppy discs, skip to step 3.

2. Run the "Setup.exe" found in the CD-ROM's \Level2fl\Disk1 folder (not that found in the root folder!). After this installation, you will have a 55 000 object database, including stars to magnitude 8.  [Hard drive space used: 11.26MB]

3. If you want the full Level II database (including stars to magnitude 10), copy the contents of the CD-ROM's \Level2cd\Data folder (not the folder itself) into TheSky's Resident folder on your hard drive (e.g. C:\Program Files\Software Bisque\TheSky\Resident). This will overwrite the original data which was placed here during step 2.  [Hard drive space used: 17.84MB]

If you wish to include the object pictures on your hard drive, see the Pictures heading below.

Option B
(Level III and Level IV users; 18-45MB or more)

If you have Level IV, and can devote at least 282MB of hard drive space to TheSky, then you should consider Option C, below.

1. If TheSky v4.00 is already installed on the target machine, remove it using the Uninstall utility (Start / Settings / Control Panel / Add/Remove Programs).

2. Run the "Setup.exe" found in the CD-ROM's \Level3fl\Disk1 folder (not that found in the root folder!). After this installation, you will have a 280 000 object database, including stars to magnitude 10.  [Hard drive space used: 17.84MB]

3a. If you want the full Level III database (including stars to magnitude 11), copy the contents of the CD-ROM's \Level3cd\Data folder into TheSky's Resident folder on your hard drive (e.g. C:\Program Files\Software Bisque\TheSky\Resident). This will overwrite the original data which was placed here during step 2.  [Hard drive space used: 44.44MB]

-or-

3b. (Level IV users only)  If you want the full Level IV database (including stars to magnitude 14-16), rename TheSky's Resident folder on your hard drive to Data (e.g. C:\Program Files\Software Bisque\TheSky\Data), then copy the following folders and their contents from the CD-ROM to the new Data folder:

Folder Size Description
NST 6.03MB Nonstellar data
Largeinf 7.31MB Large field GSC information
Largeplt 12.84MB Large field GSC plot data
Smallinf 79.78MB Small field GSC information
Smallplt 139.89MB Small field GSC plot data
Text 17.86MB Expanded object information
Index 10.89MB Search indices
Tutorial 2.44MB Astronomy Tutorial
  277.06MB Total

If you wish to include the object pictures on your hard drive, see the Pictures heading below.

Option C
(Level IV users only; 282MB)

1. If TheSky v4.00 is already installed on the target machine, remove it using the Uninstall utility (Start / Settings / Control Panel / Add/Remove Programs).

2. Run the "Setup.exe" found in the CD-ROM's root folder (Start / Settings / Control Panel / Add/Remove Programs, Install) to begin TheSky's installation.

3. When prompted for the Setup Type, choose the Custom option, then press Next.

4. From the Select Components dialog, select every option (the On-line Astronomy Tutorial is optional), then press Next.  [Hard drive space used: 281.32MB]

When installation is finished, the entire Level IV (less object pictures) will reside on the hard drive, and TheSky will operate independently of the CD-ROM. If you wish to include the object pictures on your hard drive, see the Pictures heading below.

Pictures
(All levels; up to 136MB)

If desired, follow this procedure to include the pictures on your hard drive:

1. Copy the CD-ROM's \Pictures folder (including sub-folders) to TheSky's folder on your hard drive (e.g. C:\Program Files\Software Bisque\TheSky).  [Hard drive space used: 135.44MB]

If you wish to conserve up to 20.42MB of hard drive space, you will probably want to include only one of the \Pictures\AAO... folders, as each contains the same images at a different resolution.  Following are some details about each of these folders.

Folder Size Intended Display Resolution
AAOLOW 6.30MB 640x480+
AAOMED 10.21MB 800x600+
AAOHI 17.79MB 1024x768+

2. When adding picture .SDBs to TheSky, substitute the hard drive location created in step 1 (e.g. C:\Program Files\Software Bisque\TheSky\Pictures) where the manual or other instructions refer to the CD-ROM's \Pictures folder.

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How do I Interface a Custom CPS with TheSky?

If you have—or are developing—a custom computerized pointing system (CPS) which you would like TheSky to control, the following is REQUIRED READING!!!

(This information is presented in a question-and-answer format. Please take advantage of the imbedded links, as they offer much greater detail.)

Q. "My telescope mount has slewing motors. Can TheSky control them?"
A. TheSky does not directly control motors. You need to have an intermediate controller which connects to your personal computer via its serial or parallel ports, and which understands one of the command protocols supported by TheSky.

Q. "My mount has motors AND encoders. Can TheSky drive the motors while monitoring the encoders?"
A. As in the previous answer, TheSky does not directly control motors. If your encoders are connected to a supported passive CPS, TheSky can direct you to a target and show the mount's progress as you drive the motors with a hand controller, or similar.

Q. "What is the protocol used by TheSky to control a telescope mount?"
A. TheSky actually supports many protocols. If you want to incorporate one of these into your custom active CPS, we generally recommend either the LX200 or ACL protocol.

Q. "I've developed my own protocol. How do I make TheSky recognize it?"
A. TheSky will recognize only those protocols it has been programmed to. Because we rarely provide custom programming services, it is highly recommended that your CPS be designed to use one of the supported protocols.

Q. "Can I make my telescope remotely-controllable by TheSky?"
A. If you have an active CPS using a TheSky-supported protocol, then you can control the mount from any computer capable of connecting to your host computer, provided both are running TheSky software. Be advised that most slewing mounts have inadequate pointing-accuracy to make this practical. Please consult with Software Bisque for details.

Q. "I would like to purchase an after-market slewing system. Which do you recommend?"
A. Unfortunately, there are few after-market active CPSs which readily adapt to most mounts, and which work as well as the built-in variety. However, there are a couple such systems which TheSky supports that are probably the best of the current offerings. We suggest you talk to owners of systems you are considering to determine which is best for you.

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How do I Show Pictures of Objects?

TheSky Astronomy Software, version 4.00 for Windows

Follow the directions provided in Chapter 13 of the manual. If you are still having trouble, here are some things to check:

  1. Use the Edit|  Find command (or Find button) to find M42. The Object Information dialog's Image button (looks like a 35mm camera) should be active. If it is not, then the setup described at the beginning of Chapter 13 was not completed properly.
  2. When adding files to the Database Manager's File List, they must have the .sdb extension. Do not add image (e.g. .gif) files themselves to the File List.
  3. If you have a CD-ROM edition, make sure the CD-ROM is in its drive, and that the drive letter referenced by the Image Path setting under the Data|  File Locations dialog is correct.
  4. If you wish to see an Image symbol on the Sky Display for each available picture, be sure the Visible checkbox for the Image object type is checked under View|  Filters. Note that the default Image symbol is a small, gray camera, which is sometimes difficult to distinguish from other objects. If you prefer, you may choose one of our alternate symbols, or draw your own.
  5. If you have TheSky version 4.00.000 (check under Help|  About TheSky), you should download a more recent version for best results.
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What is Track Where You Are vs. Track Where You Were?

Track Where You Are begins tracking a star in its current position on the guiding detector. This position is remembered for Track Where You Were.

Track Where You Were moves the guide star to the position remembered from the previous Track Where You Are, then begins tracking it. This is most commonly used to minimize the amount of shifting necessary to register multiple images for combining or blinking. This command is not available until Track Where You Are has been used at least once in a given imaging session.

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Where can I find my Serial Number?

TheSky Astronomy Software

Version 2: A serial number is not required.

Version 4: The serial number is located on the back side of the CD-ROM case. Once you have installed the software, you should be able to find the serial number under Help|  About TheSky.*

Version 5: There are three self-adhesive labels on a wax paper backing located within the package (usually within the CD-ROM jewel case).  Each of these labels bears the same serial number.  It is suggested that one be attached to TheSky's jewel case, one to the manual's inside cover, and one to the Product Registration Card.**

CCDSoft CCD Astronomy Software

Floppy disk edition: The serial number is located on the label for Disk 1. Once you have installed the software, you should be able to find the serial number under Help|  About CCDSoft.*

TPoint Telescope Pointing Analysis Software

Floppy disk edition: The serial number is located on the label for Disk 1. Once you have installed the software, you should be able to find the serial number under Help|  About TPoint.**

*While a serial number is required for support, these products do not require a valid serial number for installation, nor operation, though something must be entered in the serial number field.
**A valid serial number is necessary for installation and operation of these products.

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Why doesn't My Screen Show Any Stars?

There are many factors which affect the appearance of stars on TheSky's display. Check each of these:

  1. If you have a CD-ROM edition, is the CD-ROM in its drive?
    (A field of view 50 or smaller requires stellar data usually found on the CD-ROM.)
  2. Are the Stars turned off?
    TheSky v2: Check the Star checkbox under Display|  Object Types.
    TheSky v4 & 5: Check the Visible checkbox for Stars under View|  Filters.
  3. Is the Star magnitude limit set too high?
    TheSky v2: Check the GSC checkbox and Magnitude Limit under Display| Catalog Selection.
    TheSky v4 & 5: Check the Magnitude Limits for Stars under View|  Filters.
  4. Are you looking below the horizon?
    (In Zenith Up orientation, an opaque horizon can block all objects.)
  5. Do you have an incompatible video driver?*

*If you have version 2.xx of TheSky for Windows, or one of its cousins (see TheSky By Any Other Name), then you are probably experiencing a video driver conflict. Because some of today's video drivers behave differently from those common when this software was written, TheSky (et al.) is not always 100%-compatible with them. Try changing to a standard VGA driver (note exactly which one you are currently using first!), then run the program again. If you now see stars, then the problem is the video driver. We recommend you try other drivers until you find one which delivers the colors and resolution you desire, and is compatible with TheSky (et al.). Better yet, consider upgrading to TheSky v4.00, which is compatible with the newer drivers.

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How do I Stay Informed of Software Bisque Happenings?

The best way to stay informed of the latest from Software Bisque is to regularly visit our web site, as this is where news is published first.  But, especially for those of you who may forget to make regular visits, we also publish a newsletter.

SkyNews is Software Bisque's official newsletter, which is typically published one or two times per year to announce the arrival of a new product or major upgrade.  This newsletter is mailed to everyone on our mailing list.

You should be on our mailing list if:

If you would like to be sure you are on our mailing list, please provide us with your complete mailing address via e-mail, phone, FAX or mail.  Please note that we do not presently send announcements via e-mail, and providing us with your e-mail address alone is not sufficient to be included on our mailing list!

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When will TheSky v5 for Macintosh be Available?

It's shipping. For more information, please check out our TheSky for Macintosh web page.

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Copyright 1999-2000 Software Bisque, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Last modified: Wednesday September 08, 2004.