Hobbyist Astronomer Develops App used for Hubble Space Telescope
Created with Xojo, AstroPlanner now used by more than 5000 astronomers
- Develop Mac application to aid astronomical observation planning
- Developed application within 6 months
- Used by more than 5000 amateur astronomers
- Aids observation for Hubble Space Telescope
In 2001, Paul Rodman, an amateur astronomer from Seattle decided to take his interests to the next level. He bought a Meade LX200 telescope and discovered he could program a computer to control it. The only problem was he wanted to use his Mac and at that time there were very few Mac astronomy applications available. In particular, there were no applications for planning and executing observing sessions. Paul has a background in computer science and decided he could just build one himself.
Paul had worked with other programming tools to compile applications on the Mac, but felt most of them were too time consuming. He was looking for a rapid, cross-platform application and after learning about Xojo online, Paul was sold.
In just six short months Paul produced an astronomer’s planning app and shared it with other Mac-based astronomers. They were equally pleased and before he knew it, he was getting requests for a Windows version. Today AstroPlanner is used by more than 5000 amateur astronomers to facilitate astronomical observation planning, visualization and logging, as well as control of telescopes with computerized go-to mounts or digital setting circle controllers. AstroPlanner helps astronomers figure out what to look for in the sky, when the best time would be, and then helps them do the actual observing by logging observations and controlling their telescopes.
While most users are amateurs, in 2004 Paul learned AstroPlanner was being used at the University of Toronto to help astronomers plan observations for the Hubble Space Telescope. Astronomers are also using the software in the USA and Australia to plan asteroid photometry and astrometry programs, and to automate extragalactic supernova search efforts using robotic telescopes.
In addition to AstroPlanner, Paul has written several support applications using Xojo to handle customer tracking, bug tracking, and construction of FAQs. He’s also working on an application that emulates various types of commercial telescopes, along with an app that will allow his users to share astronomy hardware information via a central database.
Supporting Quotes — Paul Rodman, creator of AstroPlanner
- "While experimenting with Xojo I was surprised how easy and fast it was to create a Mac application with a decent user interface. I was blown away when I found that, with a single checkbox, I could compile the exact same code for Windows. I could build a Mac application and then, with minimum effort, squirt out an equivalent Windows application."
- "Xojo offers friendly, readable syntax, but with powerful object-oriented language features and unique, powerful built-in features that are easy to use."
- "I can turn out GUI apps on the Mac in virtually no time at all. I am a one-man show, but I have managed to use Xojo to automate most of my day-to-day stuff."
The Real Solution
Paul determined Xojo was best because of the following critical features:
- Cross-Platform Deployment: Xojo makes it possible to develop software on one platform and deploy on multiple platforms with native-looking results.
- Rapid Application Development: Xojo is a rapid application development environment that gives programmers the power to write, test and ship software four times faster than C++ or Java.
- Automation: With Xojo’s “Build Automation” feature, users can visually drag and drop build steps to execute common actions, like copying files and running IDE scripts, before and/or after an application is built. All of this can be done from within a given project.
AstroPlanner in Action
Long time Xojo user and amateur astronomer, Tim Jones, uses AstroPlanner for deciding which objects to highlight for the public crowds at the Saguaro Astronomy Club and Phoenix Astronomical Society's public outreach star parties. By working through things in AstroPlanner before the event, it's much easier to be prepared compared the old method of searching for objects while the line for the telescope gets longer and longer.
"Being able to show information about the targets on my Mac Book Air adds greatly to the experience for all attendees." says Tim. "AstroPlanner is one of the biggest bargains for amateurs looking to improve their field time behind the eyepiece or with a camera. The number of features in AstroPlanner can be found in other Astronomy packages, but you'd need to combine multiple packages to get them all at almost 15x the price of AstroPlanner."