LookUP, Images and Astrotags

I created LookUP a while back to make it easy to find out the positions of any astronomical object. In the background LookUP goes off searching a variety of sources and databases - Simbad, NED, SkyBot etc - until it finds the object you are looking for. It then returns the position and some basic information including links back to the original data source.

Over time I've added some bells and whistles to help correct spellings ("Did you mean...?") and added thumbnail Digital Sky Survey (DSS) images from Wikisky. One of the things that has bugged me for ages is that solar system objects were never in the DSS thumbnail. That's because the DSS image is a snap-shot at a particular time and Mars, Comet Halley, Vesta etc weren't there at the time. At Science Hack Day I decided to fix this.

With help from Joe Davis, I hacked together a Yahoo YQL request to find the Wikipedia article for the solar system object being searched for. This involved also sending the object type (e.g. "comet", "planet", "moon") otherwise simple searches such as "Juno" tended to return the wrong article. With that sorted, a second YQL request could be done to extract the image from the infobox in the article. This was also a bit tricky as the infobox sometimes contains a few small images.

Today I properly integrated the thumbnail-image-getter into LookUP. That means that the image details (the image and a link back to where it came from) are also accessible if you prefer your results in XML or JSON formats. That brings me onto more image-based goodness that is possible courtesy of the Royal Observatory Greenwich's Astrotag initiative on Flickr. The ROG are encouraging people to add special tags to their astronomical images to make it easy for machines to find them and do things with them. Here is their video introducing astrotags:

Introducing astrotags from Royal Observatory Greenwich on Vimeo.

Astrotags are exactly the sort of thing LookUP can benefit from. Tonight I made use of the YQL table created by Jim O'Donnell for astrotags and some nice CSS to make the first 5 returned images look like Polaroid snaps. I quite like the result.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Monday 28th Jun 2010 (22:42 BST) | Permalink
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