More on Google Sky

Google Sky has been adding scientifically interesting (and maybe useful) astrophysical data since its introduction a few weeks ago. In particular, Geoff Marcy has added known exoplanets (i.e., planets around other stars) and Joshua Bloom has added support for VOEvents, a data format for distributing information about astrophysical events happening in real time, such as supernovae (exploding stars) and intense gamma-ray bursts. Marcy and Bloom are both from Berkeley, which was savvy enough to issue a Press Release: it’s not often that astronomers get to mention billion-dollar companies in their work.

That’s how I learned that two of Sky’s developers are Ryan Scranton and Andy Connolly, astrophysicists who had worked on the Sloan Digital Sky Survey but since apparently decamped to the greener pastures (darker skies? bigger computers? larger paychecks?) of Google itself. Maybe they’d like to sponsor a blog or two?

Update: thanks to Mollishka, in the comments, for pointing out a more technical paper on Google Sky by Scranton, Connolly and others which I completely missed (busy week at Imperial Astrophysics with lots of distractions I can’t write about!…). One of the interesting nuggets of infomation is that the “native” coordinate system is simply a rectangular grid in latitude and longitude. Such a projection heavily distorts (and oversamples) the regions around the poles; this makes some sense for the Earth — there’s not much going on at the North and South poles — but less so on the sky, where most directions are just an interesting as any other, and hence has spurred the development of more complicated systems like HEALPix and GLESP for pixelizing the sphere.

2 responses to “More on Google Sky”

  1. mollishka avatar

    Presumably you also saw the astro-ph article?

  2. Ryan Scranton avatar
    Ryan Scranton

    Andy’s actually moved on to the University of washington. They were gracious enough to let him go on leave for 6 months to work on Sky prior to the launch, but he’s since moved to Seattle. I’m sticking around Google for another year to continue developing Sky, afterwhich I’ll hopefully be going back to academia.
    The press release with the Berkeley groups is right in line with what we intended to happen with Sky (not surprizing since we worked with both groups on their layers prior to launch). As we say in the paper, we see Sky as an excellent tool for astronomers to use to communicate their work to the public. Even better, it’s something that will let the public communicate right back.