Stargazing: Astronomy software is just amazing

When I married my wife Julie I inherited some close family friends of hers: the Bisque family. A big family with so many names that I’ll just focus on the 4 brothers who I have deep respect for: Steve, Tom, Dan, and Matt.

In 1991 when I first met the guys at Software Bisque, they had two products: A DOS based astronomy packaged called The_Sky and some funky financial modelling package they had built for my father-in-law. The_Sky was the cool thing. It had an amazing graphics engine that could display a real-time view of the universe above using real data. You could click on any object (star, planet, whatever) and get more information. You could change the perspective, zoom in/out, etc… I’m not really into astronomy, but I loved playing with it. 

At the time I was a developer support engineer for the Windows SDK and I gave the Bisque brothers a copy of the Windows 3.0 SDK. About 4 weeks later Dan called me to tell me they had ported The_Sky to Windows!

Recently SoftwareBisque released TheSky Six, the 6th version of TheSky (along the way they lost the space in SoftwareBisque and the underscore in The_Sky). If you have any interest in astronomy you owe it to yourself to check out TheSky (and their other products). They have a Pocket PC version as well.

Last week I was in Colorado on vacation with the Bisques. We were at a “resort” called Budges White River Resort deep in the mountains of Western Colorado. Roughly a 2 hour 4×4 drive from Eagle CO. Tom Bisque had his SoftwareBisque powered telescope up there and we did some amazing stargazing. Here’s how it worked:

  • I said “Tom, I’d like to see a galaxy on edge.”
  • Tom would say to Steve, “How about NGC4565?”
  • Steve would say, “Yea, that’s probably visible tonight.”
  • Tom would sit down at the laptop in the tent, and using TheSky would right-click on the object labelled NGC4565 and choose the command to tell the telescope to slew to it.
  • The un-believably cool, red-anodized-finely-machined-aluminium Paramount ME Robotic Telescope Mount would “whirr” for a few seconds like a robot on an assembly line and then stop.
    Paramount ME. Art and Engineering
  • I’d look through the eyepiece, and smack dab in the center was NGC4565 in all it’s glory. A galaxy a bazillion miles away, on edge, looking just like a flying saucer.
  • While I watched I could hear the slight hum of the Paramount as it carefully kept the telescope pointed at NGC4565. I could have watched for an hour and it would have stayed dead center in the eyepiece!

We did this over and over with nebulae, galaxies, binary stars, star clusters, and so forth.

Tom didn’t have it setup, but if he did, we could have taken CCD images of what we were looking at and viewed them right on the laptop. It would have looked like this:

 
Check out this page for tons of pictures that were taken with TheSky powered telescopes.
 
The telescope setup Tom had up there was worth about $20,000 including the base, the Paramount ME, the CCD camera, and the laptop. Just 5-10 years ago a telescope setup with the accuracy and capabilities of this setup would have cost easily $500K to $1M.
 
The innovative software that the Bisque brother’s have built, on Windows, is enabling an order of magnitude more people to view deeply into the sky in amazing new ways!  One guy discovered 5 (five!) comets using their software. Universities and other institutions are using TheSky to control Paramount ME enabled telescopes remotely over the Internet! (check out www.ibisque.com for details on SoftwareBisque’s program for this). I just think that’s cool, and I’m thankful that I am friends with them.
 
 
© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.

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