Although many other places have already covered Chromoscope in the past week, I thought I'd should write something too. Why? Well, I wrote the code behind it. I was helped by Rob Simpson and Chris North who sourced images and created a blog to go with it.

We created Chromoscope for the Royal Society Summer Exhibition as a way to illustrate why astronomers observe the Universe at different wavelengths. We weren't guaranteed an internet connection so we needed something that could run on a standalone laptop. Google Maps seemed to want to talk to the Googleplex and I seemed to be struggling to get OpenLayers to work as I wanted so I thought I'd try to make my own "slippy map". It turns out that you don't need legions of developers.

Making it has been both interesting and fun. As a result I now know my way around the sky in Galactic coordinates much better than before. Even though I've seen plenty of sky surveys at different wavelengths, this is the first time I've been able to fade nicely between them too. It has been great to spot bubbles of Hydrogen-alpha emitting regions surrounded by far-infrared emitting dust (change the wavelength to see what I mean) or see gaps in the X-ray survey data.

We officially launched Chromoscope at .Astronomy last Thurday after a few months of user testing from some nice people on Twitter. Since then nearly 100,000 people have been to look at it. This caused the servers to grind to a halt on Sunday/Monday and I had to get an Amazon S3 account (with helpful advice from Arfon) to help cope with the traffic. In the past 30 hours there have been almost 5 million image requests!

Chromoscope certainly isn't perfect and it doesn't go to the depth (or have the bells and whistles) of the excellent WorldWideTelescope or Wikisky. What it does do is fade between wavelengths and have the ability to be downloaded for places without an internet connection. It has also helped a significant number of people realise that there is lots to see beyond the visible.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Thursday 10th Dec 2009 (23:43 GMT) | Permalink
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