/observations version 2

Last year I wrote about the /observations project I worked on at LCOGT. The aim was to provide a web page for every public observation taken using the LCOGT network of telescopes and also provide ways to browse the images. It worked well but I knew there were improvements to be made. This week we've released version 2.

The first improvement is to allow you to browse by type of astronomical object. That is really easy as an idea but isn't so straight-forward to make work. Every observation needs to be classified. With 2 telescopes that would already be a big task for a person to do but would become a full-time job as the network expands next year. So, it had to be something that could be done automatically. Thankfully, one of my other projects - LookUP - came in useful.

When a page is created for an observation, LookUP tries to work out what the object is by querying a range of astronomical databases. If it detects an object type it stores the AVM category code for it. Once that works, it's relatively easy to make the categories browseable. The result is that you can get observations of globular clusters, emission nebulae, galaxies etc.

There are some objects that get misclassified or don't get identified and that is mostly down to the names assigned to them by the observers. Unfortunately, I can't insist that the observers use recognizable names. Nevertheless, my auto-categorization seems to work fairly well.

The second improvement was to the advanced search form. As well as being able to search by title, telescope, wavelength filter, and date, it is now possible to search by object type, by observer and by position. The position search took a bit of effort as I had to find an efficient cone search algorithm so that comparing against 60,000+ observations didn't make the results slow. Aside from some issues around the input formats (declination has to be in decimal degrees at the moment), this seems to work.

Heat map
Heat map of recent observations with the Faulkes Telescope North and Faulkes Telescope South CREDIT: Stuart/LCOGT
As a fun extra I created a heat map that shows roughly where all the telescopes have been observing during the past month. Reassuringly, it shows that nobody has observed too near to the Sun*.

I have some ideas for more improvements but they'll have to wait a while.

* Which they shouldn't be able to do anyway as the control interface shouldn't allow it

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Thursday 10th Nov 2011 (16:07 GMT) | Permalink
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