Telescopes, Google and Bill Gates

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope is an 8.4 m diameter telescope currently being constructed and will eventually be sited in Cerro Pachon in northern Chile. The design has a large field of view so it can image 10 square degrees of the sky at a time with a 3200 Megapixel CCD camera. This large field of view will mean that the telescope can survey the entire night sky with high resolution on a regular basis. This opens a new "parameter space" or, in other words, astronomers will be able to look for interesting things in time as well as space within one data set. That allows observations of variable stars, near-Earth objects, supernovae and other things that go bang in the night.

The project is quite ambitious not least because of the volume of data that will be generated. The LSST team claim that they will generate 30 TB (1TB = 1024 GB = 1048576 MB) of data per night making up to 150 PB (1 Petabyte (PB) = 1024 TB) over the course of the 10 years that the survey will run. That is a huge amount of data and dealing with it is a very difficult task. Cue Google. On January 5th last year, the LSST announced that Google was joining forces with the LSST to provide the data processing, organisation and mining capabilities. In many ways this makes sense because Google now have 10 years of experience (and technology) of processing large amounts of data very quickly. From Google's point of view I imagine this all fits into the Google Earth/Sky development plan; imagine Google Sky showing real-time (or within the past 24 hours) images of the night sky and having a time slider so you can see things change. Google benefit and so do the LSST astronomers.

The LSST say that once the survey is underway

(around 2013) all the data will be freely available with no proprietaryrestrictions. They also say that "a sophisticated data managementsystem will provide easy access, enabling simple queries fromindividual users (both professionals and amateurs)". Given thatstatement and Google's involvement I would expect some kind of API for web applications.

Via Pierre Nel I notice that the LSST has now (3rd January 2008) received donations of ∀20M from the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences and ∀10M from Microsoft founder Bill Gates. These donations allow a start to be made on the construction of the telescope's large mirrors which will take 5 years to make. This is only pocket money to Bill Gates but it is interesting that he is effectively collaborating with Google. No sign of Apple yet.

The flood of free, up-to-date images of the sky may appear to be in direct competition with the commercial robotic telescopes but they give you the fun of controlling a telescope live so should still have a place. Whatever happens, five years from now should be an interesting time in terms of our access to the night sky.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Saturday 05th Jan 2008 (17:24 GMT) | Permalink
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