Real Time Sky

I’ve been blogging here about real time sensing data networks, with a sense of the Far Outside. But then today at UC Berkeley, news of this really wonderful mashup between Google Sky, which was just released two weeks ago, and real-time astronomical data whose distribution is supported by the National Science Foundation’s effort to generate new science networks called cyber-infrastructure.

As of this week, [astronomer] Bloom and his team began feeding Google a mash-up of gamma-ray bursts discovered by NASA’s Swift orbiting observatory and the Milagro ground-based observatory; microlensing phenomena detected by the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE), which searches for dark matter within the Magellanic Clouds and the Milky Way’s galactic bulge; asteroids and optical transients from the Palomar-Quest survey; and newly exploded supernovas from surveys by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Supernova Search and ESSENCE. The mash-up is updated every 15 minutes.

VOEventNet, which allows these disparate data to be fed to Sky, was developed with funding from the National Science Foundation as a way to automate astronomy so that new observations are relayed within seconds or minutes to robotic telescopes that can quickly and automatically swivel to observe them. Today, such discoveries are announced to astronomers through email or fax “telegrams” from the International Astronomical Union, often delayed for days while referees assess the event. VOEventNet would eliminate the middlemen.

One of the best and most incredible things about platforms like Google Earth is the ability of scientists to directly communicate and share research, information, and ideas with the larger public without having to enlist the traditional mediators of publishers and librarians. Perhaps more importantly, web 2.0 platforms permit everyone to work with the data themselves, re-working and re-combining the data in ways that the original creators would never have imagined.