Recently I started working for the Las Cumbras Observatory Global Telescope. LCOGT runs the Faulkes Telescopes and is expanding into a network of 0.4-2m diameter telescopes spread around the world that will be free to use. It is pretty exciting and I love that the motto is "we always aim to keep you in the dark" (night sky wise, obviously).

One of the key parts of LCOGT is allowing people to take observations with the telescopes. I soon realised that, with one search form as the access point to every observation that had been taken, finding something specific was a little difficult. If you had forgotten the date you took the image you might have to search through hundreds of images of M31 before you found your own. So, along with Ed, we started thinking about providing more ways to get at information in the observation database.

In a parallel part of my brain I've been following the BBC's developing efforts on /programmes - a way to provide access to their gigantic database of TV and radio programmes using simple web addresses. This is all connected to RESTful services and to Tim Berners-Lee's idea of 'linked data'. Jargon aside, I liked the idea of building simple web addresses to get at their programmes and channel information e.g. /programmes/b006mk7h/episodes gives access to episodes of the Sky At Night and /programmes/b006mk7h/episodes/upcoming lists upcoming episodes of it. It was only natural then to think of creating /observations.

Within /observations every observation has it's own identifying URL built from the location ID, the telescope ID, and the observation ID for that telescope. So this nice image of M82 taken with the Faulkes Telescope North is located in /observations/ogg/2m0a/53692 ("ogg" for telescopes at Haleakala, "2m0a" for Faulkes North, and "53692" is the observation number on that 'scope). You can start removing bits of the URL and still get some kind of useful information. Stepping back to /observations/ogg/2m0a gives you the most recent observations taken by Faulkes North. Back another step and you get a list of telescopes at the Haleakala site (only 1 at the moment). If you are an observer you can see all your own observations via your unique user URL e.g. /observations/user/1323 shows all observations by Clifton High School. We've also added the ability to see the most recent observations from any telescope in the network via /observations/recent and you can get these in RSS form at /observations/recent/rss.

This certainly isn't a finished product yet. I'd like to add other data output formats (JSON, FITS?) and also the ability to drill down into the data by using dates e.g. /observations/ogg/2m0a/2010/10/ I'm sure even more ideas will spring to mind as time goes on.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Friday 15th Oct 2010 (20:44 BST) | Permalink
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