Astronomy began as a visual science, first through careful observations of the sky using either an eyepiece or the naked eye, then on to the preservation of those images with photographic media and finally the digital encoding of that information via CCDs. This last step has enabled astronomy to move into a fully automated era -- where data is recorded, analyzed and interpreted often without any direct visual inspection. Sky in Google Earth completes that circle by providing an intuitive visual interface to some of the largest astronomical imaging surveys covering the full sky. By streaming imagery, catalogs, time domain data, and ancillary information directly to a user, Sky can provide the general public as well as professional and amateur astronomers alike with a wealth of information for use in education and research. We provide here a brief introduction to Sky in Google Earth, focusing on its extensible environment, how it may be integrated into the research process and how it can bring astronomical research to a broader community. With an open interface available on Linux, Mac OS X and Windows, applications developed within Sky are accessible not just within the Google framework but through any visual browser that supports the Keyhole Markup Language. We present Sky as the embodiment of a virtual telescope.I suspect this might be the first paper I've ever seen on arxiv that I actually stand a chance of reading and understanding. ;-)
Sort of following on from Astronomy on Your Google Homepage and More Astronomy on Your Google Homepage, how about a Lovell Telescope Camera on your Google Homepage (although, these days, it's called iGoogle):
If you use iGoogle and want to give it a spin just add this to your home page.
Well, when I say "not always a bad thing", I don't really mean it. Of course they're a bad thing for most observers. But, sometimes, just sometimes, a contrail can put on a really nice display:
Almost a poor man's noctilucent cloud.
Just recently I got an email from Ryan Scranton, one of the developers involved with Google Sky. He was replying in relation to what Google Sky is, what it does, and what other people would like it to do (by the looks of things the point of the product does appear to be that it should be a platform on which other things can be built rather than it trying to be yet another planetarium).
One complaint about the product appears to have been the lack of a horizon. This isn't something that bothers me, I'd go use a planetarium if I wanted that, but it also appeared reasonable to assume that someone out there would come up with something akin to that at some point soon.
And then Ryan pointed me in the direction of Hey, What's That? (actually he pointed me at this blog entry on Ogle Earth). Stand alone that's a pretty neat application. I can imagine using it to try and figure out what I'm seeing in a landscape photograph, for example (well, okay, perhaps not a Lincolnshire landscape, it's a bit flat around here — perhaps for Scottish landscapes then? <g>).
But, here's the clever bit: the site also has the ability to export an actual horizon for an actual location and let you use it in Google Sky. Now, I'll be the first to admit that it's not as pretty as the view you get in something such as Stellarium, all you get is a grid for the sky and a line that marks the horizon (lumps and bumps and all), but for those who hanker after such a facility in Google Sky, it's a start. I think it's a really nice example of Google Sky providing a platform on which other people can build handy tools and applications. It seems to be a nice illustration of what I was saying the other week.
On the wider issue of what Google Sky does and doesn't provide: I'm told that the people behind it are reading what people are saying and they are very interested in the thoughts and ideas that people have been expressing. They also seem surprised (in a good way) that it's had so much attention and people have been checking out all sorts of details (and finding interesting little quirks).
So, if you've got ideas for what's missing, what's good, what could be better, would would be a nice addition, etc... post away.
Feel free to post them as comments here if you like.