Astronomers Eager to Add to Sky in Google Earth


Since Sky in Google Earth debuted two weeks ago to let the public explore the heavens from their computers, two University of California, Berkeley, astronomers have jumped in to populate Google's sky with the most recently discovered heavenly objects.

This week, Google posted on its Web site another layer of information users can add to their personal sky: real-time updates on new objects that flash in the heavens.

"Right out of the gate, Google Sky has become a powerful tool for the public and in the classroom," said Bloom, an assistant professor of astronomy who employed Sky in his opening lecture last week to an introductory astronomy class at UC Berkeley. "And if it works well and gets more and more of these transient events into the system, we as researchers will be using it."

Bloom and his colleagues at the California Institute of Technology and Los Alamos National Laboratory build the "cyber"-infrastructure, called VOEventNet, that allows satellites and telescopes to send astronomers, and Google, real-time information on these newly discovered transients in the sky. VOEvent is an important backbone for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, which should detect thousands of interesting transients every night. The LSST is a proposed ground-based 8.4-meter telescope that will image faint astronomical objects across the entire sky. (Targeted for completion by 2017)

"LSST answers the question, How do you do 21st century astronomy?" Bloom said. "The cutting edge won't be people going to telescopes and taking data, but terabytes and terabytes of data coming in every day, and astronomers sifting though the data for new discoveries."

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.

Bloom expects more astronomers to take advantage of the ease of adding mash-ups to Sky in Google Earth in order to layer interesting astronomical objects over the viewing area and create personalized tours of the cosmos.


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