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Deep Space: Version 5.56

"The program was obviously written by a person who actually uses it."--John Mosley, Sky & Telescope

(NOTE: If you have an older version of Deep Space and have upgraded to a computer with a Pentium II chip or clock speeds greater than 250MHz, you need to upgrade. There was a bug in the Borland Compiler, that was used to create Deep Space, that chokes on high clock speeds. The current version fixes this problem.)

Commercial Version

The full commercial version of Deep Space comes on a CD ROM that contains the 250,000 star NASA Skymap database, the 18-million star Guide Star Catalog, the Saguaro Deep Sky database with about 10,000 objects, and about 10,000 asteroids and comets. The program and data files can be downloaded for use on laptops or other computers that lack a CD ROM drive.


Versions 5.01 through 5.21 were primarily "maintenance" upgrades to Version 5.0 and were provided free of charge over the internet or for a small handling fee via mail. Version 5.5 is a relatively small yet substantive upgrade, and it involves a small upgrade fee: $15 for registered users of version 5.0 through 5.21. Upgrades for registered users prior to version 5.0 cost $55.

Shareware Version

A shareware trial copy of Deep Space is available for download from SEDS (Stars subdirectory). This is an astronomy software archive site and contains other programs of interest to amateur astronomers as well. Look for the file named: (where the x's are the decimal part of the version number for the most current upgrade).

In the shareware version all functions are fully operable (including telescope interface support!), but printer support is limited to Postscript, and the databases are reduced (naked-eye stars, fewer comets and asteroids, and only the Messier list of deep sky objects). The shareware version is intended to be a trial copy, but it is quite serviceable in its own right for many purposes. Even if you decide not to register, the shareware version itself is worth the download time.

What Was New in Ver. 5.5?

Version 5.5 is a relatively small upgrade with three new features: 1. The Milky Way, 2. A full year Moon Phase Calendar, and 3. Local Horizons.

  • Our Milky Way is not just a crude shaded region. It is digitized at two levels of brightness from outline drawings done specifically for this project by the noted space artist Don Davis. We think you will agree this is the most impressively realistic Milky Way available in any astronomy software, or in any printed star atlas for that matter. Now you can routinely include it in your star map printouts. In the Map Features configuration section you can control the percentage of shading on the printouts to adapt to your tastes and to the ideosyncracies of your printer. One map you will definitely want to print is a 360 degree wrap-around view of the whole sky in Galactic Coordinates centered on the Galactic Center in Sagittarius! We have included this view for you as a saved map. Use this base map to visualize the distribution of open clusters and nebulae along the plane of the galaxy, the distribution of the older planetary nebulae, more concentrated toward the galactic center and less confined to the galactic plane, and the very spherical distribution of the globular clusters around the center point of the galaxy.
  • Create a year-at-a-glance moon phase calendar with the phase of the moon (including the position angle of the terminator) illustrated for each day of the year. The printout has a column for each month and is numbered from 1 to 31 down the side. Pick out dates for star parties and astronomical vacations at a glance. If you live south of the equator (as indicated by a southern latitude for the current site) the moon images will be shown inverted as you would see them from down under!
  • The Local Horizon feature allows you to create and edit a file that outlines the actual horizon for each site in your observing site list. How you use this feature will depend on your needs and resources. By default it will plot a "smog line" of any desired altitude. The easiest way to enter a detailed and accurate horizon is to use the Deep Space Navigator or digital setting circles. Trace out the horizon with your finder scope or Telrad target, repeatedly pushing the button on your Navigator box or typing a key on the keyboard to make a horizon profile as accurately as you desire. If you don't have a Navigator or digital setting circles you can plot a circular sky map showing the whole sky in Real Time Mode and use the keyboard cursor to enter horizon points based on the stars that are blocked by local obstructions. If you edit the file later to improve the resolution you can optionally sort the horizon points by azimuth. (You would not want to use the sort feature, however, if you trace out overhangs around trees, etc.) If one member of a club has a Deep Space Navigator or digital setting circles the horizon can be copied for other users of the same observing site. Horizon profiles of popular observing sites will undoubtedly become available with time.

Deep Space: Overview

Deep Space (formerly Deep Space 3-D) is more than just another planetarium program. Deep Space is a full-featured observerving guide: a reliable introduction for beginners and a practical tool for advanced observers. Deep Space generates publication quality star maps, designed for clarity and low distortion. It serves as an almanac, an ephemeris, finder charts for planets, comets, and asteroids, a star atlas, an annotated deep sky reference, an observing log, a telescope controller and much more.

"Some softwares have a documentation almost as fascinating as their programs. I think that this is the case here" --Denis Page, Quebec

Deep Space is easy to learn. It comes with a carefully written 100 page printed manual and two levels of help available from within the program. Included are three major overview sections addressed to the separate needs of beginners, teachers, and advanced observers.

"I can't thank you enough for Deep Space. I have found it so useful for all my projects..." --Msgr. Ronald Royer "Deep Space prints charts that you wouldn't believe." --Paul Carnes, New Mexico


Deep Space is the clear favorite of many experienced observers. But if you are a beginner, is Deep Space really for you? YES! Even as a beginner, if you plan to actually go outside at night and look at the sky, try to find a comet, sweep the Milky Way for star clusters and nebulae with binoculars, or learn to use a small telescope, you, more than anyone else, will need good reference maps. Once you start observing at any level, Deep Space will be your most useful resource.

Special "Match-the-Sky" Charts

One feature in Deep Space designed explicitly for beginners is our "Match the Sky" charts. You can set a distance for holding the charts in front of your eyes (say 12 inches) and Deep Space can automatically print charts centered on any constellation that are the correct scale and map projection to exactly match what you see. Trace these charts onto transparencies (or make a "Star Frame" by bending a coat hanger into a rectangle and covering it with plastic wrap) and mark the stars with White-out, so they can be seen at night. You will have your own window into the universe! (Experienced Observers: do you want to know where to point your Telrad sight to find a faint object in light polluted skies? Make a Match-the-Sky chart to mark the spot right on the sky! -- technique submitted by a satisfied user)


Deep Space is ideal for creating printouts that can be used in the classroom. Print whole sky or horizon views for group observing sessions, print star maps with just dots to have students learn the constellations like they would at night (...this method really works, and really carries over to nighttime viewing!), and more. The documentation has a whole section with ideas for classroom use. Teachers will also want to obtain Planet Tracker, which is specifically oriented to classroom use and comes with extensive activity suggestions.

Observing Sites

Customize an expandable list of observing sites with latitude, longitude, time zone, and altitude. Attach to any site a file tracing the local horizon. Include this horizon profile on star maps of any format.

Day and Time

Select a day and see a graphical (and numerical) display of rise-set times for the sun and moon and duration of twilight to guide you in selecting your observing times. Display times in Standard, Daylight, or Universal Time.

All Night Summary Maps

The default star map, when you start up Deep Space, is a 360 degree wrap-around map of the sky centered on the sky overhead at midnight. On one side of the page the western horizon is shown for sunset and the end of evening twilight. On the other side of the page the eastern horizon is shown for the beginning of morning twilight and sunrise. In one glance you see summarized the observing potential for the entire night. Plot the planets, comets, asteroids, and targeted deep sky objects on this map for a handy overview of the night's observing.

Special Purpose Maps

Plot circular all-sky maps, horizon views, pole-to-pole sectors of the sky, 360 degree wrap-around maps along the equator, the zodiac, the Milky Way, or the Horizon, Match-the-Sky maps. Zoom maps to any scale down to single eyepiece fields or less. Use stars from the general-purpose database or from the 18 million star Hubble Guide Star Catalog to show every star visible in your eyepiece and more.

General Purpose Star Database: 250,000 Stars

The main star data in Deep Space is the NASA Skymap database (the rough equivalent of the SAO star catalog). It has nearly 250,000 stars with a rough 9th-10th magnitude cutoff. This is an excellent general purpose database with lots of information given per star. Two significant pieces of information given for most stars and used in Deep Space are distance and spectral type.

The distance information is used for creating 3-D star maps. Distance measurements are notoriously uncertain in many cases, but for our purposes something is better than nothing. The distances are good enough to give a general idea of the three-dimensional layout of our stellar neighborhood.

The spectral types are used to color code the stars. If you know a little astrophysics this adds yet another dimension to the information presented on the star maps. For instance, blue stars are hot stars which burn out quickly and therefore must be young stars. Notice the predominance of blue stars along the Milky Way and their rarity away from the Milky Way. Blue stars mark star formation regions. Compare the distribution of blue stars with the distribution of open star clusters and diffuse nebulae, other markers of star formation.

Hubble Guide Star Catalog

The Deep Space CD ROM contains the complete Hubble Guide Star Catalog (GSC) with about 18 million "stars" to full resolution of the original database but in a more compact form. (Even the shareware version supports the GSC if you have the CD ROMs from ASP or Project Pluto.)

The GSC data is deep, but it is not a good general purpose database. The only significant information it records per star is position and magnitude. In order to achieve great depth, photographic plates were automatically scanned and converted to data points. Algorithms were devised to attempt to distinguish stars from non-stars, with mixed success. The data is divided into "object classes" according to the likelihood that a particular datapoint is a star or non-star. The GSC is notorious for having lots of erroneous data. Sometimes galaxies or even photographic artifacts are digitized as though they were stars. When you compare the GSC maps with the views in the eyepiece, most of the errors stand out like a sore thumb. Deep Space helps you cope with this problem by providing a "ZAP" function to maintain a list of erroneous data points to be filtered out. As you find errors you can clean them up and print publication quality star charts without the "embarrasing extras."

Because of its special nature the GSC is not merged with the Skymap data in Deep Space. Rather, when you want an eyepiece field to the limit of your telescope you can specifically choose to zoom into the GSC database. GSC stars are drawn from the CD ROM, or you can download selected areas to disk for faster access or for use on laptop computers that may not have CD ROMs. The downloads can be filtered by magnitude and/or object class to save hard disk space.

Coordinate Systems

Plot maps maps in any of the four main coordinate systems:

  • Equatorial, for general purpose star atlas charts
  • Ecliptic, for following the planets along the Zodiac
  • Galactic, for studying the layout of the Milky Way
  • Horizon, for viewing the orientation of the sky right now

Map Projections

Choose among the best map projections for star mapping:

  • Stereographic, to preserve shapes everywhere, with zero area distortion at the center
  • Mercator, to preserve shapes everywhere, with zero area distortion along a horizontal line
  • Transverse Mercator, to preserve shapes everywhere, with zero area distortion along a vertical line
  • Gnomonic, the projection created by a camera; used also in recording meteor showers
  • Polar Equidistant, planisphere projection; balances shape distortion with area distortion over reasonably large areas of the sky
  • (False Mercator), a pretty lousy projection for general use, but it has the advantage that it can show 100% of the celestial sphere in a single map, which is handy for some purposes.

Most important, every map is plotted with the center of the projection at the center of the map to minimize distortion. If you don't know which map projection to use, don't worry. Deep Space will select an appropriate projection for you.

(Deep Space was originally designed as an in-house star mapping utility for producing our printed star map products. We also design specialty star maps, gores for globes, and have designed special pre-distorted map projections for vacuformed and pad printed globes under contract for other companies. This background in star cartography shows through in the mapping capabilities of Deep Space.)


Labels are a serious problem in most star mapping programs because they tend to overwrite stars or other objects of interest. Deep Space allows you to position all labels. Labels attached to deep sky objects (galaxies, star clusters, etc.) have a line "rubber banded" to the object being labeled so objects even in very cluttered areas of the sky can be labeled clearly.

Field of View Circles, Telrad Targets

Deep Space allows you to place up to ten Telrad targets and eyepiece fields anywhere on a map. In the configuration section you can define field sizes for high, medium, and low power eyepieces and a finder field. This can be very helpful in getting a quick sense of the scale of a map.

Grid Lines

Grid line options include full grids for all four coordinate systems listed above, just the poles and/or equatorial circles of each system, a grid covering all positive altitudes in horizon coordinates, or a zodiac band 20 degrees either side of the ecliptic. These options can be mixed or matched. The choice of grid is independent of the coordinat system used to plot the map. For instance, the grid of positive horizon coordinates can be shown on a map plotted in standard equatorial coordinates to enable you to read off altitude and azimuth of any object.

3-D Views

Deep Space was earlier known as Deep Space 3-D. We have kept (and expanded) the 3-D capabilities of the program, but taken 3-D out of the title, since the main thrust of the program is observing. With Deep Space you can plot 3-D stereograms showing the stars at their true relative distances or showing the orbits of the planets, comets, and asteroids in their true spatial relationships. An inexpensive 3-D viewer is available for the "stereoptically challenged."

Comets and Asteroids

"Deep Space is renowned for its superb comet-plotting and comet ephemeris capabilities..." -- Sky and Telescope

"I use Deep Space all the time for planning my comet-hunting runs. It is by far the best program of this nature." --Rodney R.D. Austin, New Zealand (Discoverer of comets 1982g, 1984i, and 1989c1)

Deep Space comes on CD ROM with the CBAT database of about 1100 comets and the DASTCOM database of about 10,000 periodic comets and asteroids. Deep Space does more with comets than any other software available.

  • Plot the orbit of the comet viewed from any point in space (in 3-D if you wish) to see how the comet moves in relation to the solar system.
  • Plot a finder chart to any scale, for any range of dates.
  • Track the motion of the comet both with respect to the stars and to the horizons.
  • Plot a comet path relative to the horizons on the default "All Night Summary" map to show whether (or when) the comet will be a morning or evening object and how high it will rise in the sky.
  • Scan your comet element data for current positions and magnitudes of all comets currently brighter than a given magnitude cut-off.
  • Plot the current positions of all selected comets.
  • Print a detailed ephemeris including magnitude estimates, position angles and phase angles of the tail, distance from the sun, distance from the earth, and more.
  • Show a standard length 1/10 AU (about 10 million mile long) tail on all comet plots. The tail length is corrected for position angle, phase angle, and distance. If the actual tail is longer or shorter than the plotted tail, the plot can be used as a measuring stick to judge the physical tail length.
  • Plot a recovery chart showing the optimal search area for returning comets that may be delayed or ahead of schedule.

All applicable comet plotting functions have been applied to asteriods and planets as well.

Deep Sky Objects

Deep Space uses the Saguaro deep sky database. This is a superset of the NGC catalog with the best objects of many other catalogs included. There are many special features associated with deep sky objects:

  • Deep sky objects are represented as symbols on large area maps. Once the map is zoomed in sufficiently, the objects are plotted to the correct scale and galaxies are shown as ellipses with the correct shape and orientation.
  • Deep sky object labels are movable. If the object is represented by a symbol the label is "rubber-banded" to the object. Once the map is zoomed in large enough for the object to be shown to scale the "rubber band" is omitted. This system allows for very readable, pleasing labels even in densely populated areas of the sky like the Virgo galaxy cluster.
  • When selecting deep sky objects you can filter by magnitude, membership in a "category" (see below), and object type. Once the objects have been plotted individual objects may be deleted. You have very flexible control over what is displayed on your maps.
  • You can select an object by its NGC or Messier number to automatically center the map on that object.
  • The deep sky database comes with two pre-defined sub-categories: the Messier list, and the Herschel 400 list. You may also define up to four categories of your own. This comes in very handy if you are working on a special project or frequently select objects for special purposes. For instance, if your club does sidewalk starparties in the city, you could define a category called "SIDEWALK" and put in it all the objects that are visible under light polluted conditions. When you prepare for a sidewalk star party you can quickly dump your category to a current map without having to sort through a much larger list from memory.
  • Each time you select a deep sky object with the cursor or automatically cycle through the objects on the map, two windows are displayed: the Catalog Information about the object and an observing log. When you observe the object you can take notes and enter them into the observing log. Every time in the future you select that object your notes come up alongside the catalog information. If you are using your program on a laptop computer in the field at night you can enter your observing notes on the spot. This, finally, is an observing log that is truly functional.
  • Deep Space allows you to maintain multiple observing log files. You can browse the log files in two ways. You can either cycle through the log entries in a given file, or you can cycle among the files to compare comments for a specific object. The multiple log feature allows you to share observing notes among members of your astronomy club. To broaden the usefulness of this feature even more we have maintained import/export compatibility with NGP format. NGP is a shareware text-based observing log program (available from SEDS). Some excellent observing note files by a number of experienced observers are available in this format. Several log files imported from NGP format have been included on the Deep Space CD ROM. They provide excellent commentary to enrich your observing activities.
  • All labeled objects on a map automatically go into an observing list. Each time you produce a map for use at a star party, print out the observing list to accompany it. You can print out a bare list or optionally include rise-set times, catalog data, and/or notes from an observing log for each object. Staple the list to the map, put it on a clipboard, and you have a very handy reference packet to use at the telescope. Save the list to disk and browse it later to add comments to your observing log.

User-Defined Objects

Besides the standard catalogs of solar system and deep sky objects, other objects may need to be plotted. If a nova is discovered, you can enter its coordinates and display it as a "+" mark on the map. You can enter one object at a time or input a list from a text file. Some Deep Space users have used this feature to enter their search list of variable stars. When Comet Shoemaker Levy was heading for Jupiter a file of pre-computed positions at one day intervals for each nucleus was published by the IAU. This file was converted to the proper format and shows the motion of the famous "string of pearls" comet in a dramatic way. That file is distributed on the CD ROM as an example. If you have special lists you wish to study, such as double stars or variable stars, you can make them accessible to Deep Space using this feature.


Deep Space has always been known for its high quality printouts. This stems from its origin as a star map printing utility program. Earlier versions had an HP Laserjet driver and a 9-pin dot matrix printer driver. As the varieties of printers grew we converted to a standard Postscript output and included GoScript (a Postscript emulator by LaserGo Inc.) to support the variety of printers. (GoScript is proprietary to LaserGo Inc. and cannot be distributed with the shareware version.--sorry. Shareware users might try Ghost Script (freeware) or other Postscript emulator as an alternative.)

Importing Maps for Desktop Publishing

Maps can be sent either to a printer or to a file (or both). The files are in Postscript (.EPS) code. These files can be imported into Correl Draw Ver. 5 or later, Adobe Illustrator Ver. 6 for Macintosh, or other publishing programs containing Level I Postscript interpreters. We would be interested to hear specifics of success stories with other applications.

Real Time Mode

If you are planning for a future star party you do not want the current time getting in the way. You can specify the time of interest with the Day and Time function. If, however, you are using a laptop in the field at night, either for reference star maps or for telescope interfacing, you can put Deep Space in Real Time Mode which will update the horizons and all moving objects every time the screen is redrawn. (You can force a screen redraw at any time.)

Telescope Support: 1. Deep Space Navigator

If you plan to use your laptop computer with your telescope at night, your best choice for telescope interface is the Deep Space Navigator. The Deep Space Navigator does not have internal databases or standalone capability, but it provides the optimal interface between the telescope and your computer. It supports much higher resolution than most of the other interface boxes available because it performs its one function full time: it monitors the encoders over 50,000 times per second. This enables you to use high resolution encoders and even to gear them up 2, 4 even 10 or more times without danger of losing counts! This extra high resolution would be meaningless without the software support Deep Space provides. But with telescope mount error corrections, multiple star calibration, and flexure compensation, higher precision encoders can lead to high accuracy end results. How accurate your results will be depends on the mechanical stability of your total system, but results in the 4 to 7 arcminute range are common for portable Dobsonian telescopes, with some permanently mounted telescopes doing even better.

To increase pointing accuracy, Deep Space allows you to do a one-time "super calibration" with 20-30 stars. Deep Space will estimate the two major error angles in your scope: the lack of perpendicularity of the axes and the lack of alignment of the optical and mechanical axes. These two angles can be stored and compensated for. In subsequent alignments 6 or 8 calibration stars scattered over the sky will produce high precision results.

Calibration on many stars is not as difficult as it may seem at first glance. Our calibration algorithm uses a minimum of three stars. When you have sighted your first three stars an initial calibration is performed automatically and you are guided to the remaining stars on your calibration list.

In some cases there is significant flexure of the mount or shifting of the primary mirror that cannot be eliminated by our algorithms. To gain higher precision in those cases we have added the ability to mark the offset of a star or other object from perfect centering. Moving to other nearby objects the offset can be duplicated to allow you to center objects with increased precision. Marking the offsets in this way does not affect the calibration, so it will not cause detrimental effects in other parts of the sky.

When you target an object on a star map on the screen, Deep Space switches to a full-screen cross-bar display that responds to movements of the telescope like two bar graphs: one for each axis. Simply zero out both bar graphs and you are pointing at your object! Whether you have an alt-az, equatorial, or German equatorial mounting, the process is the same. When you are in a star map and the telescope interface is calibrated, there are two cursors: one controlled by the keyboard and one indicating the current position of the telescope. If you zoom into a tight group of objects, such as the Virgo cluster of galaxies, you may find it easier to simply move the telescope until the cursor lines up on the object of interest.

The Deep Space Navigator has a special push-button that allows you to communicate with your computer from the telescope to minimize having to walk back and forth from the telescope to the computer. As you are calibrating, push the button after each calibration star is sighted. The display immediately jumps to the next star on the calibration list, making the whole process quick and painless. When you are sighting an object, push the button when it has been found and the display reverts to a star map. If you are sweeping the sky with the telescope and discover something of interst, push the button and the map will automatically recenter on the current position of the telescope to let you identify the object.

Telescope Support: 2. Digital Setting Circles

Tangent Instruments markets digital setting circles under several brand names, including Sky Wizzard, NGC Sky Vector, NGC MAX, Advanced AstroMaster, and Night Assistant. With the Tangent Instruments line of digital setting circles controled by Deep Space you get all of the functionality of the Deep Space Navigator except for the high resolution encoder support.

The built-in calibration algorithms in these digital setting circles limit you to two star calibration. Small errors in sighting the calibration stars can cause significant errors as you sweep to more distant parts of the sky. With Deep Space in control you can bypass the internal calibration process and calibrate on as many stars as you want, allowing you to achieve uniform accuracy over the whole sky. Furthermore, the internal databases of the digital setting circles become irrelevant. You can point the telescope to any screen location or object in the Deep Space database.

Telescope Support: 3. The LX200

Deep Space will send positions for any star, planet, comet, asteroid, deep sky object, user-defined object (nova, etc.), or screen position of the cursor to the LX200 interface and cause the telescope to move to that position. Furthermore the telescope position will be displayed on the screen and constantly updated as the telescope moves relative to the sky. With a keystroke you can automatically recenter the map on the current telescope position. In Real Time Mode the current horizon is displayed and will prevent the telescope from being sent to positions below the horizon, which is useful if the telescope is calibrated in unknown site mode.

Because of limitations in the LX200 computer interface, the information needed for Deep Space to do an independent calibaration is not available through the RS232 port. Therefore if you are using the LX200 you must go through the telescope's own calibration process. Therefore Deep Space cannot improve on the pointing accuracy, but you can send the telescope to any object in the Deep Space database regardless of the internal database in the LX200.

Deep Space has been around since 1987 and has a loyal following. We invite you to download the shareware version and try it for yourself, or send $5 ($10 foreign) to cover postage and reproduction costs for a disk by mail. We accept Visa, MasterCard, and American Express. In terms of useful features for the observer, we think you will find Deep Space offers you more than any other astronomy program on the market.

P.O. Box 642, Eastlake, CO  80614 / Voice: 800-516-9756 / Fax: 720-285-1924