Introduction to Sky Safari 5

Sky Safari 5 is one of the best pieces of astronomy software on the market today. Available in three levels – basic, plus and professional – at a reasonable price, it gives backyard astronomers like us access to every object we could ever want to find.

I find it very easy to use and, since discovering it, it has become my ‘must have’ piece of equipment. I have it installed on my iPad so that I need no internet connection to use it and it always comes with me to the telescope when I’m outside now (it has a ‘red light’ mode to protect night vision, which you can see in the video below).

All of the video and screenshots on this page are taken directly from the iPad version of Sky Safari 5 Plus. Love the Night Sky will earn a small commission if you purchase Sky Safari through the links on this page, but the price you pay is not affected.

Personally, I use it for planning an evening’s viewing – it stores all the objects I want to look at and in the order I want to look at them.

I also use it to help me find those objects when I’m at the eyepiece. You can zoom in or out of any detail you need to help with object location.

If you have the equipment (and are so inclined) Sky Safari 5 can be set to control your telescope, pointing it at any object you select with the software.​

However, for all the great things it brings, there is a learning curve to setting up and using Sky Safari. So, in this first Sky Safari 5 guide (there are more coming), I’ll show you how to configure the many set-up options to your liking, so all you need to spend time doing is using the software for stargazing.​

At the very end of this article, I share three short videos showing you how to find objects to look at, once you have Sky Safari set up just the way you like it.​

(If you don’t have time right now to read/watch this whole article, I can send you a crib sheet with all the settings I use. Just click here to grab yours now.)​

About this Guide to Setting up Sky Safari 5

I’ve tried to make this a comprehensive visual guide to setting up Sky Safari 5. It contains ten videos taken directly from my iPad, all of which are less than two minutes long. Eac one shows you a different part of how to set up Sky Safari 5.

For me, the iPad Plus version is the best one to use. It’s a good balance of software depth (2.6million objects) and convenience, because I can use the iPad outside.

If you don’t have Sky Safari 5 yet, you can grab a copy now by clicking the relevant button below. Please note, there is no Windows version available.​

iPad / iPhone Mac Android

Once you have installed the app, you have everything you need to continue on with this article…

Introducing Sky Safari’s Sky Chart View

The screenshot below (which you can click to zoom) is taken directly from my own iPad running Sky Safari 5 Plus.

The chart view takes up almost all of the screen. The exceptions are the Status Bar across the top and the menu icons across the bottom. ​

Starting at the top left you can see the location (Kansas City in the image below), with precise latitude (39° 07′ N) and longitude (094° 38′).

Main screen of sky safari 5 showing status bar

Main screen of sky safari 5 showing status bar (click to zoom)

On the right hand side of the top line is the date and time of the screenshot, in this case it is Wed 02 August, 2017 at 0100. This is local time, i.e. the time in Kansas City.

The line below, with the blue text, shows details about the sky view itself. The left hand side shows the centre of the screen is 269.9° west and at an altitude of +86.9° above the horizon (it would show a negative number if we were seeing below the horizon).

The final figure in the status bar, at the right of the screen shows the area of sky we are looking at. In the case below, centred around Cygnus, the screen area is 47.8° wide and 59.0° deep. If we were to zoom in, these dimensions would shrink. For example, we could zoom into a patch of sky just a degree wide if we needed to.

First Things First: Setting Time and Location

Everything Sky Safari 5’s chart screen shows you is configured based on two major pieces of information: where you’re observing from and the date and time.

How to Set Your Location in Sky Safari

It’s really simple to set your location, as I’ll show you in the video below. If you are connected to the internet, you can let the app pick your current location. Otherwise, search for your nearest town and select that.

Generally speaking, you don’t need to be too accurate on location setting. So long as you have a city relatively nearby to choose from (i.e. within 50 miles), the charts will be accurate for your actual view of the sky.

How to Set Sky Safari’s Time

With your location set, the next most important thing to do is set the time. The time setting is always taken as the time at the location you have set, i.e. the local time.

Like many aspects of Sky Safari, there are a number of different options for time setting. However, I find that there are just two that I use all the time:

  1. A Future Observing Time: When I am planning an evening’s observing, I set the Sky Safari clock to the date and time I expect to be outside, e.g. this coming Saturday at 10pm. This shows me the sky will look like at that time.
  2. Current Time: The ‘now’ setting is useful when I am standing at my telescope and am using Sky Safari to guide me around the sky​. Selecting ‘now’ (which you can see in the short video below) makes the chart screen reflect your sky at this moment.

With time and location set, you’ve done the two most basic (and important) settings!

Now when you look at the sky charts, they’ll be accurate for the time and location you’ve selected.

Next, let’s get into how to configure the sky chart screen to your liking.​

How Do You Like Your Sky?

One thing I can promise is this: no matter how you prefer to see the night sky when you are using this software, it can be configured that way!

In this section, I’ll share some of the basic settings that will help you get the most from it.

Setting a Black or White Sky

Some of us prefer to have an ‘inverse monochrome’ sky when planning our observing sessions. In simple terms, that means black stars on a white background. Other astronomers, prefer the traditionally black sky with white stars. This is the monochrome setting.

The final option, and the one you’ll see on all the videos on this page – because I use it – is the color setting. This gives shades of blue/purple and leaves stars in their more natural colors.

Inverse Monochrome and Monochrome screens on Sky Safari

Inverse Monochrome and Monochrome screens (click to zoom)

To set this, click on the ‘settings’ cog on the main screen. Select ‘Appearance and Behavior’ from the left hand menu, then make your choice from the options under ‘Chart Color & Brightness’ in the right hand menu. Click ‘Done’ when you’re happy.

Sky Safari’s Horizon Settings

You can use Sky Safari 5 with no horizon showing at all. This gives you a complete view of the whole sky, with no Earth getting in the way.

More common is setting a horizon to give you a sense of what is and is not visible at any given location and time.

In the video below, I show you how to choose and set a horizon. The clickable images beneath the video show you what each horizon style looks like so you can choose a favorite.

The next two images (both clickable for a bigger version) compare each of the horizon settings to each other.

Opaque, transparent and line horizons in Sky Safari

Opaque, transparent and line horizons (click to zoom)

I prefer the middle option of the three above – the translucent. It helps make sure that I never lose track of where the ground is, but I can always see what is about to rise or has just set.

no horizon and horizon panorama options

These are the ‘no horizon’ option and one of the 15 ‘Horizon Panorama’ options (click to zoom)

If you are a bit hardcore, you can switch the horizon off altogether, as per the left option in the picture above.

For something more realistic of the horizon, i.e. it has gradients instead of a flat line, you can use one of 15 different images. The one on the right in the picture above is called Desert Road.

Refer back to video above for how to set these options, including how to choose one of Sky Safari’s ​horizon panoramas.

Stellar Magnitude Settings in Sky Safari

Sky Safari 5 Plus, which is the version I use, has over 2.6million stars in its database, down to magnitude 12 – more than enough for most beginner and intermediate-sized scopes. It also has more than 31,000 deep space objects (DSOs) down to magnitude 15.

The Professional version of Sky Safari 5 has ​over 27 million stars to magnitude 15 and more than 740,000 DSOs to magnitude 18. This is aimed at larger telescope owners.

As great as it is to have so much data, it is obviously way too much to try and cram onto a single tablet screen.​

The way we deal with this is to set a maximum brightness for the objects you can see in the sky chart screen.​

In real life, when you are looking up at the night sky unaided, the brightest stars you are going to see with the naked eye are maybe magnitude 6… and that’s with good seeing in a rural location.

If we make the Sky Safari screen representative of our view, it becomes very easy to navigate around it.

Thankfully, it’s a cinch to adjust the magnitude of stars shown to control how densely packed your screen becomes. Watch the video clip below to see how it’s done.​

The image below, which you can click on to enlarge, shows you the effect on Ursa Major of setting the stellar magnitude limit to 7 (top), 6 and 5 (bottom).

Ursa Major with Magnitude Limit set at 7 (top), 6 and 5 (bottom)

Ursa Major with Magnitude Limit set at 7 (top), 6 and 5 (bottom). Click to zoom

Star Names and Density Settings

You can also set the density of star names, so you can have every star named, none of them or a happy balance. In the still images of Ursa Major, above, the setting is 15%.

The video below shows you how to adjust the level on your copy of Sky Safari.

Constellations and the Milky Way

After watching the videos above, you should be getting a good feeling for how to make adjustments to Sky Safari’s settings. Hopefully, it’s getting close to configured just how you like it.

The last setting that has a dramatic impact on the chart screen’s appearance is how you choose to show the constellations and Milky Way.​

In this final video on settings, you can watch me configure both using the different options available.

In the pictures below, you can compare the different constellation and Milky Way settings against each other. Click them for a larger version.

Constellation Settings​

How to set constellations in Sky Safari 5

From top left: Name Only, Traditional Lines, Mythical Figure, IAU Boundary (click to zoom)

Milky Way Styles

Milky Way display options in Sky Safari 5

Milky Way options, clockwise from top left: None, Framed Outline, Filled Area, Realistic image (click to zoom)

Milky Way Brightness / Intensity

Sky Safari Milky Way intensity settings

Different intensity settings for the Milky Way. From left to right: 75%, 50%, 25% (click to zoom)

Other Setup Choices in Sky Safari 5

There are many other configuration options, such as grids, poles, coordinates, zenith, nadir and meridian. If you have a particular preference then have a play with the settings or consult the online Sky Safari Manual for more detailed info.

To make it easy to copy the settings that I use, I’ve created a crib sheet which I can send to you right now, click here to grab it.

Finding Your First Objects with Sky Safari 5

Now everything is set up, it would be wrong for me to leave you without having shown you how to find your first objects with the app.

I will do a more detailed tutorial for using Sky Safari 5 in the future but, in this final series of three short videos, you can watch how I use it to find objects in the night sky.

Selecting Objects on the Main Screen

It’s easy to choose any object you can see on the main screen. In the video below, you can see how to select and find out more information about objects, as well as center them in the window.

Best of Tonight Feature

One of Sky Safari’s most helpful features is a ‘best of tonight’ list.

No matter what location and time you have set, a simple press of a button brings up a list of objects that are above your horizon at that moment.​

Searching for an Individual Object

Sometimes, we have our heart set on finding one particular object. Sky Safari’s search function means you can pinpoint any one of its more than 2 million objects (‘Plus’ version) with ease.

My Settings Crib Sheet

And that brings to a close this video and picture guide on how to set up Sky Safari 5 on your iPad. I hope that amongst the 10 videos on this page you’ve found something new to get better use from the app.

If you don’t have Sky Safari 5 yet, then just click the relevant button below to download it now.

iPad / iPhone Mac Android

If you’d like to save time and just use the settings that I do, then click here, leave me an email address and I’ll send you an easy-to-follow crib sheet straight away.