Monday, April 2, 2007

Cool site of the RTI*

(That's Random Time don't expect this to be periodic, do you?)

Today's very cool site is wikisky.

This is a great way to organize information. There's a whole universe out there, so why not organize what we know about it visually? wikisky lets you browse around the night sky and see what's out there. In selected portions, you can even get real images based on the SDSS survey in progress. In addition to that, you can click on any object (stars, galaxies, clusters, nebulae, whatever) and get a pile of reference material for that object. Okay, so most of this is most suited to professional astronomers, but some of the basics are still very interesting for normal folks, too.

I also think professional astronomers need to get out into the night more often, and this is a virtual way for them to see what else is near their study objects. I've met too many professionals who don't know the night sky as well as newbie amateurs, and I think that's a shame. But that's another rant for another time.

For a sample of what's in wikisky, try this link. That should take you to a view of a very small chunk of sky. The very bright star at the bottom is Regulus (aka Alpha Leonis or Cor Leonis, as in "lion heart"). It's a relatively nearby star that is prominent in the springtime sky. The faint patch of stars is one of the nearest and faintest galaxies known. It's a member of our local group of galaxies, and is named "Leo I". (Astronomers aren't always very creative with names.) Click on either for much more information and a list of abstracts relevant to the object.

I can see that I'm going to be wasting a lot of time on this site!

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