Where is it looking?

Have you ever wondered where professional telescopes are looking? I do, but perhaps that is just because I can see one from my window. Anyway, in an attempt to find something useful - or at least not utterly pointless - to do with twitter, I have created a small script which updates twitter with the observing targets of several of the telescopes connected with Jodrell Bank. My script isn't perfect and, for now at least, mostly tells you the rough Right Ascension and Declination of the object being observed. However, if the position matches something in a basic lookup table, it will display the object name. Currently, if my script can't work out the object, it just displays "space". I'm not happy with that solution. Suggestions are welcome.

What is quite cool (for sad people like me) is to use Twittermap to see the updates displayed on a Google Map (e.g. search for "Cambridge, UK" on Twittermap to see the current target for the Cambridge 32m telescope). Today the MERLIN telescopes, tomorrow the world! Mwahahaha. What would be even cooler is if there was a Google Universe that could be overlaid with labels for where professional telescopes are looking in 'real time'.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Wednesday 09th May 2007 (21:25 BST) | 19 Comments | Permalink

Comments: Where is it looking?

Did someone say a Google Universe (all trademarks acknowledged, etc...)?

Posted by Dave Pearson on Wednesday 09th May 2007 (21:28 UTC)

Does Wikisky let you add custom labels on to the sky maps ala Google? The API page doesn't seem to mention that if it exists.

Posted by Stuart on Wednesday 09th May 2007 (21:51 UTC)

I'm not aware of such a feature. Perhaps they'd be happy to receive such a suggestion?

Posted by Dave Pearson on Thursday 10th May 2007 (09:11 UTC)

This may be close to what you are looking for, an extract from the Starry night software Yahoo forum about a widget.

Also, we have just done a very limited Beta-test of a "Google Gadget" very similar to the Mac Widget. Many of you may know that Google

Gadgets can be added to your Google Homepage, but it's also possible, with a single line of JavaScript, to add it to your own webpage / blog.

If anyone is interested in helping out on a limited basis by adding the new Google Gadget to their webpage/blog as a beta-test of this

technology, please email me privately.

Dave Whipps [dwhipps@hq.space.com]

Of course, our (Beta) web version is always available at:

http://www.space.com/snserver/snweb.php

Posted by Alan Watson on Thursday 10th May 2007 (12:26 UTC)

Alan, does the Starry Night Online widget have an API to add labels? I can't find one for it either.

Posted by Stuart on Thursday 10th May 2007 (13:44 UTC)

You could use the object closest and say

"3 minutes 12 seconds NNE of Vega".

How big is your catalog? Is it, like hipparcos stars to 12th mag with NGC objects? Or is it a list of interesting radio objects...

Posted by Stephen on Thursday 10th May 2007 (14:29 UTC)

Stephen, the catalogue I'm using is hand-made from radio objects likely to be observed. Many of these are known pulsars which are regularly monitored. Some are calibration objects for the MERLIN array so are often observed too. I don't want to make a look-up too big because that starts to take time to process and I'm already using up too many cycles on someone else's computer ;-)

Posted by Stuart on Thursday 10th May 2007 (17:12 UTC)

If you outlined the available hardware and software setup, you might get a volunteer expert to write something for you. I mean, if it was me, i'd get some x86 box, install Linux & postgresql, dump existing object data into it, and write an app in perl or C that spits out the answer.

Maybe new answers are computed when the dish stops slewing and starts tracking. That way if 10,000 web hits come in at once, it just works.

But you might actually have Windows, a Mac or something, and some other expert could help.

If the catalogue is small, you might be able to compute the great circle distance to all objects, pick the smallest, and do the NNE concept. With a large database, you might query for objects within a minute of RA and Dec, and use much simpler math. And if there's nothing within a minute, it really is looking at space.

It sounds like an interesting problem to play with, anyway.

Posted by Stephen on Thursday 10th May 2007 (18:17 UTC)

Stephen, I am using a x86 Linux box to run this. The only trouble is that it isn't mine and I already have some other stuff running on it too (constantly). I don't want to get the owner too annoyed ;-)

At the moment I'm trying to minimize calculations by doing a single check to see if the RA of the telescope has changed. If it has, I then check the Declination for changes. Only then do I try to work out what the object is.

Ideally, all this (and my other bits and bobs) would run on a dedicated machine, but there isn't the money for this.

Posted by Stuart on Thursday 10th May 2007 (19:32 UTC)

Just when you think the internet can't possibly get any cooler for astronomy, along comes this stuff. While a Google Universe mashup would be nice, at the moment I can just dial the RA DEc into SkyMap and look using that. Many thanks for that Stuart (although finding the scopes on the Twittermap can de diffuclt, as they are hidden behine people discussing curry etc.)

Posted by Ian Musgrave on Thursday 10th May 2007 (21:47 UTC)

finding the scopes on the Twittermap can de difficult, as they are hidden behind people discussing curry

It isn't often that large radio telescopes get hidden behind curry ;-)

Posted by Stuart on Thursday 10th May 2007 (21:53 UTC)

Ideally, all this (and my other bits and bobs) would run on a dedicated machine, but there isn't the money for this.

Random thought: a dedicated box to do the work that Stephen suggested (which all sounds terribly sensible to me) wouldn't need to be that meaty, right? Like, perhaps, the sort of box that any random company in Manchester might be trying to get rid of because it's five years old?

Posted by Dave Pearson on Thursday 10th May 2007 (23:29 UTC)

well, there may be soon Google Universe or something similar to it.

at the moment Nasa and Google are working together to bring high-resolution 3-D maps of the moon and Mars and many things in the future.

you can read more about this at [nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2006/dec/HQ_06371_Ames_Google.html]

I just hope Google Universe or Google space glob whatever will come soon, and then we can use it to bring real time information

Posted by Mundhir on Friday 11th May 2007 (15:48 UTC)

The computer shouldn't have to be very beefy. In the extreme, any of the 486/33's in my basement should be enough. I'd donate one, but shipping would be prohibitive. Now if only i had one of these puppies on the internet...

Posted by Stephen on Friday 11th May 2007 (19:11 UTC)

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