Telescopes Live!

One of the reasons I like astronomy is the openness. Astronomers - to their financial detriment - are usually quite happy to give talks about their research for free (apart from travel expenses if it is a long way) and are constantly trying to share the fruits of their labour with the world. Sharing in the excitement of discovery includes beautiful images from huge, professional telescopes as well as the less photogenic scientific papers. But the sharing doesn't just have to be with the final output of research projects. Sometimes it is possible for the public to get a peek into the lives of researchers as they are working or even help with it as it happens.

In recent years, connecting observatories directly to the public has involved websites and webcams. However, I don't find a webcam image particularly engaging because it doesn't change much and I'm always left wondering what the telescope is actually looking at. I like to think to a future where you could start up Stellarium, StarryNight or Google Sky and see where professional telescopes are observing in real time. Imagine the excitement of watching several of the world's observatories slew to a new supernova explosion in a distant galaxy or gamma ray burst event. You might even then decide to go out into your own garden and take a look at the same object with binoculars or your own telescope. How cool would that be?

To achieve this aim a few things need to happen. First of all, observatories around the world would need to agree to share the information about where they are observing in real time. Before I go further I'll point out that this may not always be possible, practical or desirable. For instance, there will be times when an observer may have found (say) a new dwarf planet and they want to make extra observations of it before publishing the discovery. It would be really bad for an observer if someone else found out where they were looking and then scooped them on it. So, for fair play and decency amongst astronomers, there are times when you don't want that information public. However, there are still many times when it doesn't hurt anyone for that positional information to be in the public domain.

Are observatories really going to provide this information? Well, both Jodrell Bank Observatory and Torun Radio Astronomy Observatory in Poland already do so, so this is a surmountable problem. We can start with two observatories (and up to nine telescopes) and build up from there as others come on board.

In the past I've written a script which updates Twitter accounts for the current observing targets of the MERLIN telescopes. That is a start, but it would be better to get the information in a more usable form. So, the next part of my plan is to create an XML format akin to RSS. The idea would be for each observatory to create its own feed. This is both practical and it lets each observatory have individual control of their content which would probably make them happier. Observatories could link to their telescope feeds from their websites in exactly the same way they now do with their RSS news feeds. With a common format, users and developers could then bring many telescopes together to make a Google kml file or input for Stellarium. Perhaps more likely is that someone will come up with an even more exciting application that I've not anticipated.

So now I have a plan. Shortly I'll post a draft XML format for a simple, public friendly, telescope observing target file format (a project in great need of a good acronym). I'm sure my draft won't be perfect and I would appreciate it if readers of this blog could contribute improvements once I post it. Once we have a document definition, the next job will be to encourage observatories to create the files. I think that is the harder job but not an impossible one.

On a housekeeping note, my comments section should be working again.

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Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Tuesday 04th Sep 2007 (18:30 BST) | 12 Comments | Permalink

Comments: Telescopes Live!

Why limit this to just telescopes and observatories? Surely any observer and any telescope could be added to the network.

In fact this might have more impact if it started as a grass-roots concept and then the larger observatories followed. For example, Cardiff University (where I work) could list it's small telescope via such a file on the web or even just little old me if i were to go observing? The lack of an image is no barrier to the usefulness of the data.

Also, as far as i know, many telescopes use an XML style file to organise observations as it is, so this idea would possibly be easier than it seems.

Posted by Robert Simpson on Tuesday 04th Sep 2007 (18:36 UTC)

Rob, by having separate, self-generated files I was trying to do exactly that. My plan was for any observatory/telescope (professional or amateur) to create their own. Applications/users could pick and choose which they used then.

Posted by Stuart on Tuesday 04th Sep 2007 (19:58 UTC)

Well as it happens we're already sharing the data in real time. Within hours of Google Sky's release I'd hacked together a KML network link that carries the VOEvent network data in real time. So if you want to get data about GRBs or micro-lensing anomalies, or SNe candidates (or many other things) in real time you can...

Posted by Alasdair Allan on Tuesday 04th Sep 2007 (20:56 UTC)

Alasdair, I am aware of what you did (I saw that via Dave P the other week) and I think that is great. GRBs and SN were only supposed to be an example and my point was more general. Most of the world's telescopes don't do SN/GRB follow up but they still look at interesting things. There is no reason that both of these ideas can't exist.

Posted by Stuart on Wednesday 05th Sep 2007 (08:08 UTC)

I've put the draft XML format in the next post.

Posted by Stuart on Friday 07th Sep 2007 (11:20 UTC)

hello, my name is mark and i was wondering how i could use my personal computer to help look in space for objects noise etc. please let me know if i can help. thanks

Posted by mark on Sunday 18th Nov 2007 (04:10 UTC)

Hey coming january 3rd 2009 i am opening a live view of the skys. visit http://www.sgbrcanadaobservatory.tk today!

Posted by SGBR on Wednesday 10th Dec 2008 (22:56 UTC)

would u be able to look at the sky above warrington please .thankyou ...there is somthin odd there

Posted by amy dagnall on Friday 26th Dec 2008 (18:25 UTC)

i need to know more information about our sky our solar system i want to find out the proper reason why were here ,i wonder day after day we must behere for something ,and i thi k thiers definaltly life out their ,ufo's i definatly believe in it!!

Posted by matthew redhead on Monday 29th Dec 2008 (20:43 UTC)

where do i find the image of what was too small to be a star,too small for a planet and very hot ?

Posted by norbert sandoval on Saturday 09th Jan 2010 (05:52 UTC)

There is already a site with telescopes from all over the world broadcasting live image feeds in color all the time. You can talk with the person as he shows you live images of deep space objects in clear details. Some are showing objects as deep as mag 20. There are over 270 telescopes from around the world on the site. At any given time one of them or many of them will go live. The views are incredible to see.

The site is called w w w . nightskiesnetwork.com

You want to see some great sites check the site out one night.

Posted by Jim on Friday 04th Mar 2011 (03:24 UTC)

That's nice to hear about the astronomers giving a their free research. I know that it is not easy to share you study and research for free.



Posted by best telescope on Wednesday 10th Aug 2011 (23:05 UTC)

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