Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Google Sky

We knew it was coming for a a couple of years now, and here it is at last. The latest version of Google Earth has the first release of Google Sky embedded inside it. Even if it is quite hard to find...

Google Sky is part of Google Earth v4.2 beta

More from me when I get my head around what it's going to mean for the professional community, but I can see changes coming. I think my VOEvent time line representations might just suddenly have become very old hat. At the very least I think I'd better start generating KML links from inside eSTAR.

Update: I've spent the afternoon poking around with the internals of the VOEvent broker and the KML documentation and I currently have a live network link (KML) connected to the broker. This means that any OGLE, Robonet-1.0, ESSENCE, SDSS, GCN or other event messages that flow across the backbone will be automatically published to Google Sky.

Right now the descriptions and other details attached to the placemarks are fairly basic, but I'll work on this again tomorrow and hopefully make some progress. The other things to take note of here is that this is a live feed, that means there won't be that much to see yet since I haven't pre-populated the network link with content. You'll see it in real time as it flows across the network...

Update: The Caltech guys have had a little bit of a head start since I'm told that Google Sky uses Caltech DPOSS images. This is what they had lined up and ready to roll for the launch,

Today Google has released a new Sky layer for Google Earth. In conjunction, the VOEventNet project is pleased to announce a set of mashups showing recent astronomical transients, updated every 15 minutes. The mashups show GCN feeds (SWIFT, Milagro, Integral), the GRBlog (contains sky-located GCN circulars), as well as OGLE microlensing events. The event feeds contain VOEvents, and drilldown is available to finding charts, light curves, and original VOEvents. - Roy Williams, Caltech

As you can tell from the boilerplate in the credits in their mashups, my own eSTAR project in Exeter is part of the VOEventNet project. In fact we provide the OGLE event feed data they're using in their as OGLE network link. Of course since Google Sky was covered by non-disclosure agreements today is the first I'd heard about things. Oh well...

Update: While those of us on the inside haven't quite grasped exactly what Google Sky means yet, most of us have figured out that the world has changed. There has been a large number of emails flying back and forth on mailing lists today, and I think a few people are going to be surprised by the next few months. But unlike the professional GIS community, who were really surprised by the traction that Google Earth managed to gain amongst professionals and non-professionals alike, astronomers have a long history of the general public looking over our shoulders as we work. So one thing that isn't going to surprise us is user generated content.

Of course we're in the middle of revolution in astronomy with the virtual observatory finally beginning to bear its first fruit. The arrival of Google Sky isn't really a coincidence, but it is well timed. The mashup I put together this afternoon was really only possible because of that timing, two or three years ago the data wouldn't have been accessible in the same way as it is today.

Update: I'm really puzzled by why people are talking about Google Sky as if it was planetarium software. I think they're missing the point, I don't think the guys at Google ever intended it to be planetarium software. Google Sky isn't about whether you can observe the Ring Nebula from where ever you happen to be standing at the time. It's all about publishing, indexing, and sharing information. Surely that was obvious? It's about collaboration and user driven content, surely?

Update: Another quick hack from me to PLASTIC-enable Google Sky.


  1. I guess there will be many people just sort of randomly exploring the sky. Maybe you can write a piece on what they should look for, so that they perhaps can truly discover something that was unnoticed. It would be best if then with one click you could 'notify the experts' so they could check it out.

    Also it would be cool if it was possible to somehow vote on locations where the Hubble (or other) should take the next picture. A harvesting the wisdom of the crowds kind of thing :).