The recent pass of Comet Holmes and today’s close approach of Asteroid 2007 TU24 (shown below, image from space.com) have gotten me thinking again about open source astronomy. I have always been fascinated by the internet and how modern networking technologies bring things into one big mesh, and astronomy fits right into this. All we have to do is synchronise our watches.
Let’s say I have a telescope with a computer attached to it. This telescope always knows exactly where it is pointing in the sky and exactly what time it is. Finally this telescope knows where it is on the Earth in terms of latitude and longitude. Now let’s connect this telescope to the internet and constantly feed the images it produces to a server.
To anyone working in astronomy, this is already true for professional telescopes. In fact Stuart over at Astronomy Blog created his telescope RSS feeds using just this data not too long ago.
Now finally let us do something that isn’t normally the case: let’s connect every telescope to just one server. This central server can use the data to construct an image of any object in all four dimensions using the positions both on the sky and on the Earth from each scope. All you have to do is have enough telescopes looking at the same things.
In the case of Comet Holmes there were a great many telescopes pointed at the object as it flew by, creating a lovely glowing ball that later faded away. The various stages of its evolution were imaged and these images could all be compiled into a kind of virtual space. You ought to be able to fly around inside a computer generated model which is constructed from the images. The projections of those images into virtual space just come from the telescopes own properties and position.
I am trying this technique with another, less exciting dataset. If it works then I may try it with some images from telescopes. However this data is sparse and spread out over the world. I do not have enough of it myself to make a good start. Maybe next time a big event is occuring we, the internet (if there is such a thing) could get organised and try to create a 4D record of an event? Astronomy has eyes everywhere and if these eyes can work together, via Google Earth, AstroGrid or other more novel collaborations, then 21st Century astronomy will be a turning point, and we can all be a part of it.