NEWS@SKY (Science&Space News)
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It does not take a political scientist to understand that the state of our world is not getting more stable. The scarcity of natural resources is growing, there are more weapons on Earth than ever, the interests of different states are getting mutually exclusive, and there is no reason to hope that the governments will be able to negotiate and resolve the emerging conflicts peacefully. The world’s population grows, the competition becomes tougher, each nation pulls the blanket over itself and that blanket sooner or later will be torn into patches. A fight will begin for every patch. Domestic problems blind people, making it difficult to discern a problem of a different scale- the survival in the universe.
If Stephen Hawking is right (and scientists are often able to predict the future), the lives of our grandchildren depend on whether or not our children will dream of the stars. Children dream about things that are close to their hearts, things that are interesting and familiar. It makes no sense to expect that the dreams about the assigned theme will suddenly appear by themselves. From the beginning, the creators of SKY-MAP.ORG set their primary goal as to draw the attention of children to the outer space. That explains the intention to visualize the site’s contents as much as possible.
SKY-MAP.ORG embodies the idea of making the outer space tangible, so each object can be seen in several different forms, and all the information about this object is linked directly to the object’s image. This is a very effective and perhaps the finest way to attract the attention of children of all ages. The site’s creators consciously decided to make the site this way, but when the goal was achieved, the authors became so absorbed into the project and they began to focus more and more on expanding the site even more. The site creators have made a huge step forward, by implementing the integration of SKY-MAP with Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) and Astrophysics Data System (ADS). The authors left behind the boundary to which their original plans stretched.
First, from a simple interactive celestial chart, SKY-MAP.ORG has become the information resource, which can now provide detailed information about an enormous quantity of objects of the Universe. Secondly, the level of visualization has reached a level which the authors could not have dreamed about when they only began the project. So, although interest in the site expressed by amateur astronomers, astrophysicists, astro-photographers, teachers and the general public caught the creators by surprise, it was predictable. The site has become popular not only among children, but adults as well, and this fact has prompted the authors to rethink their goals and plans.
The huge volume of the astronomical and astrophysical information is accessible today through the Internet. Some of this information is of interest only to specialists of astronomy; other information, which is popular material, does not require any special knowledge to be understood. The space data includes educational resources for children and students, training methodology for teachers, diaries of amateur astronomers, a huge number of photographs of the celestial sphere, and tens of thousands of articles in professional and popular journals, etc. The biggest part of these resources is fragmented and difficult to use because only a few people are aware of its existence. Another part is perfectly structured and can be accessed through a variety of the information systems.
While developing Sky-map.org, the authors came into a direct contact with hundreds of information systems. The work with these systems made it possible to assume that the technology, which Sky-map.org is based on, can serve as a unique basis for the system’s integration. The main idea is to associate both scientific and non-scientific information about a space object with its image on SKY-MAP.ORG. Astrophysics Data System (ADS) is an example of a powerful information resource, integrated in SKY-MAP.ORG. Every time someone clicks on one of the SKY-MAP objects, the system automatically generates a simple request to ADS. This request allows the system to access the articles related to the subject in one way or another. Therefore SKY-MAP.ORG can easily integrate other services of the similar nature.
The authors are planning to make SKY-MAP.ORG a part of International Virtual Observatory Alliance (IVOA, http://www.ivoa.net/), and, on the other hand, to actively use IVOA as a resource for SKY-MAP.ORG. IVOA is a global system, an attempt to combine all the astrophysical data on the Internet. SKY-MAP.ORG is confident that the mutual integration with IVOA will make access to the large amounts of information more transparent. The environment, in which the information about the space objects is directly associated with the visual images of these objects, allows the development of a simple and flexible system necessary for the control of information. The natural parameters for the information management are a specific context (for example, the name of an object, the type of an object, a physical phenomenon, etc.), the character of the context (“popular materials", "scientific material", "Art", etc.), and the nature of the context (the language, the author, and the time of writing). The authors are convinced that clarity and simplicity in combination with the information’s completeness will make the project unique in many ways, particularly in the educational terms.
Besides the scientific and popular materials about space, there is an enormous volume of non-scientific resources. These are the science fiction literature and movies, the illustrations and the myths with sci-fi content, the information about the different unexplained phenomena related to space, the astrological data etc. No one has ever tried to link and project all this data simultaneously at the celestial sphere. The reason why is that it is very difficult to develop a mechanism, which would make it possible to glance at all these diverse resources from one angle. The SKY-MAP.ORG team is convinced that the SKY-MAP.ORG technology is an ideal tool to analyze and share data of different nature. And there are serious reasons to believe that this analysis can be very productive and bring numerous exciting discoveries.
The section "Astrophoto" draws your attention immediately and in an unusual way. On this page the map of the entire celestial sphere is represented, and the photographs of the space objects are projected. The selection of the photographs for any section of the sky is achieved on a visual level – by moving the mouse, the users can see the collection of accessible photographs for each point on the map. By clicking the mouse, the users can choose to view one of the photographs covering the point that was "clicked" on. Being in the region of the photograph's viewing, the users can see the window displaying a brief information summary about the object while pointing the mouse at this object. By clicking on an object, the users can open a page with the detailed information, in a way similar to how this process occurs on the main map. I.e. each photo on SKY-MAP.ORG is much more than just a picture, because not only can users enjoy the beauty of the space, but they have instant access to the required information. Another important benefit is the fact that users are able to upload their own pictures and combine them with the objects of the sky. This feature allows any astro-photographer to put his or her work on display.
The contact with the astro-photographers inspired the authors of the philosophical reflections. Astro-photographers are both - the professionals and the amateurs. The professionals publish their pictures in calendars, posters, albums; and may even publish their work in periodicals... But what happens to the millions of the photographs made by the ordinary amateur photographers? Unfortunately, the majority of amateur photographs are rarely, if ever seen. This fact caused a splash of emotions for the site’s creators. It seems so unfair that the hard work of people who have spent plenty of time, knowledge and money; the work which is meant as a tribute to its author ceases to exist with the photographer. Every photograph contains a particle of the photographer's soul. And, I am sure everyone would like to hope that their grandchildren, for whom the space perhaps will become home, would be able to see these pictures. Among other things, this work may be helpful in many ways. For example, it happens sometimes that the amateurs get luckier than the professionals while making the photographs of the rapidly elapsing phenomena. Sometimes a set of the amateur's photographs, sorted by time, offers researchers the unique information on the dynamics of various processes. Well and one additional important observation: often the amateurs use the technologies which could be envied even by the professionals and that makes possible for the amateurs to obtain the excellent in every respect photographs. That is why the authors of SKY-MAP.ORG believe that there has been a vital need to learn how to preserve these images. All these reflections led to the fact that the authors feel the necessity to significantly expand capacity of Astrophoto on Sky-map.org. There are out plans regarding Astrophoto:
The authors plan to better adapt Astrophoto to work with very large amounts of photographs. In this case, it becomes meaningless to display the projection of the photographs on the map, since there are too many of them. Instead, by using color, the authors plan to display the photograph's "density" for each point. The regions covered with fewer photos will be brighter.
WIKISKY.ORG is a synonym of SKY-MAP.ORG. It is just another name for the same site. The prefix "WIKI" unambiguously points to the existence of the ideological connection between SKY-MAP.ORG and the free internet-based encyclopedia - "Wikipedia. The SKY-MAP.ORG authors would like their site to be "alive" in the same sense in which Wikipedia is "living". That is why the authors believe that it is very important that each user would feel himself as a co-author. The SKY-MAP.ORG current version allows users to place the articles and references on the site, and then link them with the Universe objects, downloading photos and combining them with the sky map. In some sections, users can leave commentaries, and thus give feedback and share their impressions. Under the "Classification" section, it is possible to create the classes of the space objects, i.e., to combine the objects according to the arbitrary signs (you can, for example, make a class "My favorite objects"). Of course, all of this is only the beginning. Over time, the authors are planning to expand the creative possibilities for the users.
The authors of SKY-MAP.ORG started walking along the road that no one has walked before. They do not know what they will encounter on the way and where this road will take them. The new horizons might force the authors to change the objectives and priorities. The road is fraught with pits and bumps, but the authors are obstinate and they will not retreat. They are motivated not only by the curiosity, but also by the responsibility before children and people. The authors completely share Stephen Hawkings’s fears first mentioned in the epigraph. They can only add that in our time the greatest danger to the humanity is humanity itself. People are too divided now and often ignorant. And despite the general beliefs this ignorance is disseminated not only in under-developed countries. An ignorant person always depends on ideologies, cultures, religions, states, or any other institutes, which trap, enslave and use him. An arrogant individual sees the distorted and bent image of the world as the only "true" reality and himself, he considers a free person. The world, inhabited by such people, is doomed, because they are not capable of the analysis of the real situation. They are not alarmed by real threats. Standing on the threshold of death, they will celebrate victory, without suspecting that a precipice, is stretched before them just around the corner.
The authors are convinced that Sky-map.org, with its great educational and scientific potential, could play an important role in the matter of the popularization of the science about the Universe.
Each person sets goals and plans for himself. Someone attempts to finish university, another - to marry, to find employment, to purchase a home... The authors of Sky-map.org believe in the fact that their project will force people to think about one more critical goal - TO SURVIVE IN THE UNIVERSE.