CHARA for AAVSO Visual Observers

CHARA is a complete, all-in-one application originally designed for my observations at the eyepiece, and which I have used successfully (apart from a couple of bugs which proved useful in redesigning this all-singing, all-dancing version here) for a couple of years. My original version consisted simply of the one screen for bringing up star charts and entering observation details. This version however consists of three screens each with a different function. These three functions are:

  1. Facility to download your past observations from the AAVSO website. These observations are then inserted, or added to the native observations database.
  2. The database administration screen where you can see what charts you have, edit a chart's details, bring up observations of all stars or a chosen variable, delete charts and so on.
  3. The observation screen. This is the 'coal face' that you use at the eyepiece. A dropdown box lists constellations. Clicking on a constellation here populates a second box listing all the variables in it for which you have charts. Clicking on a star here loads the chart and also fills text boxes with its details such as chart date, plus the time and date of the observation, and a reminder of the last time you observed the star. The chart is 'pannable' and is displayed as red stars on a black background for maximum dark adaptation. When you enter the observation its details are written to a text file formatted according to AAVSO parameters and also to a cumulative file of your own observations. An exact mirror of the AAVSO file is also displayed in a box on screen. Note that this file is a simple .txt file, editable in the most basic text editor. Use Notepad or equivalent - nothing more advanced please.

A few points to note: first, please read the attendant help, since this contains details of where you should store your charts and what to call them. If you do not do this, the app will not work as it should. Since this app may be used by people with different preferences, a standard format had to be chosen. Basically, all charts should be named after the star (so ss cyg.gif for example) and be in either the .gif, .jpg or .png formats. I recommend .gif since the file sizes are smaller. Even the most basic image app such as paint will allow you do export as .gif files, and more advanced programs such as photoshop will permit mass-export of many files at once.

You can download CHARA from here (total about 30MB). I suggest creating a folder on your machine and save all four files/folders to there. Having done that run the setup.exe file and on installation if asked to install various data access components, just say yes. The app installs successfully on my at-the-scope laptop, which is XP, and also on this present system which is Windows 7. This method of installing is necessary since I understand that some very new versions of windows did not like the previous .zip file (go figure!)

The first time the app is run it will create the folders where you store your charts, the native database, and the folder for your AAVSO files. When you come to upload your report to WebObs, this is where your files will be located.
It will also write a 'dummy' record for SS Cygni in the charts database, so you can practice with it if you want in the database screen - though if you want the observation screen to display it, you will of course have to have a properly-named chart for SS Cyg! Obviously you won't be able to use the app for observing until you actually have charts installed in the charts folder.
You don't of course have to use the app to its full potential; you may simply want to download your AAVSO observations into the database to look at them.
Finally on the subject of databases - the charts database is accessible only through the app itself. Even if you have good old Access 97 (which the app uses) you probably won't be able to open it from there unless you are a master hacker. Sorry - this is a security measure.

Also note: At the moment CHARA is suitable for visual observers only. Discussion with AAVSO staff may engender development for other forms of observation if there is a need.
Although I have tested the 'personal' version myself, this extended app has not been used in the wider astronomical community, so I would be pleased to receive details of any problems users may encounter. You folks are, to some extent, guinea pigs! Feel free to contact me via the email link on my AAVSO profile space.
CHARA design and coding © Michael Poxon 2017.