Digital Universe gets updated

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Syzygy Research & Technology, creators of The Digital Universe astronomy software for the Mac, has updated the product to version 2.40. This update provides new features, particularly for those owning Autostar or LX200 computerized telescopes, Dan Charrois, chief developer at Syzygy told MacCentral.

There's now full support for the control of LX200 and Autostar-based computerized Telescopes. You can now use The Digital Universe to direct a compatible telescope to point directly at any of the approximately 20 million objects that can be shown on the screen, or to any arbitrary region of the sky.

The current pointing direction of your telescope is updated dynamically on the screen so that you can always directly compare what is visible in the eyepiece against what is shown by the software, Charrois said. The interface is bidirectional in that you can either have The Digital Universe tell the telescope what to point towards, or manually move the telescope around the sky and have The Digital Universe follow along.

A special red night palette has now been implemented, enabling you to use the software outdoors without significantly impacting your eyes' dark adaptation, Charrois said. A new Functions control panel has been added -- you can use it to switch modes from using the mouse to obtain information about objects or zoom in on a region, measure the angular distance and position angle between two objects, re-center the screen at a new position or point an attached telescope to a new location in the sky. The keyboard/mouse shortcuts previously used to access these features are still available, but the new control panel provides an alternate method of accessing these capabilities that may be a bit more intuitive, according to Charrois.

When the user measures the angular separation between two locations in the sky -- through Control-dragging the mouse or by selecting the appropriate option in the Functions control panel -- the position angle between the two objects (angular direction measured eastward from due north) is also provided.

Three new tooltips for telescope control and the Functions control panel have been added. The appearance of the hypertext information window was changed to make the buttons on it a bit more obvious.

Now, the epoch being used (specified in the Time Settings window) will default to the epoch of "DATE" instead of "J2000." This makes accurate views of the sky in the far past and future more intuitive to generate, Charrois said.

Since some people didn't realize that popup help was available, the time delay for it to automatically appear was reduced from two seconds to one. If this is too quick, it can be disabled and brought up on a "case by case" basis by pressing and holding down the Control key while the mouse is over a button or object on one of the user interface windows. The update fixes a possible, though rare, infinite loop situation that could arise when displaying positions of galaxies a few thousand years into the past or future, Charrois said.

As the Earth is gradually -- and erratically -- slowing down in its rotation, approximately 0.4 seconds have accumulated since the start of the year 2000 (measured as the difference between the time kept by atomic clocks and that coordinated with the Earth's rotation). The Digital Universe incorporates an internal table of the historical differences between the two time scales, with an entry for every two years. This update adds the September 2001 observed value of Delta T = 64.2 seconds as an approximation to the January 2002 value. This modification is important for those using the software in very high accuracy simulations.

Version 2.40 updates the asteroids, comets and Earth-orbiting satellite databases to include all currently known objects. And the user manual has been updated to reflect all of the modifications.

If you already own a copy of the software, the update can be freely obtained by performing an Internet Update within the program. For new users, the cost is US $94.

This story, "Digital Universe gets updated" was originally published by PCWorld.

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