This project is solving the Alert-Alert! challenge. Description
SkyWatch is a visual representation of data produced by observatories on and around the world. When transient phenomena are discovered by one of these telescopes, raw telemetric data about the event is quickly sent and collected by the NASA Gamma-ray Coordinates Network (GCN). In real-time, GCN collects, unpacks, and converts this data into standard formats that are then sent to other telescopes connected to the network. Using this data telescopes around the world can shift their focus and keep a constant watch on important events happening in space.
Up until SkyWatch, this data was built by scientists, for scientists. This made the very fascinating data that was being collected virtually inaccessible to the average human being. So we set out to change that.
In setting out to create SkyWatch we faced two problems: 1) Understanding this hidden world of telemetry and the data it creates; and 2) Figuring out how to access the raw data. So we did what anyone in our situation would likely do. We perused a site currently being used by scientists called SkyAlert (http://www.skyalert.org/). We found a regular contributor to the site, a NASA astrophysicist, and sent him an email. He was able to answer all of our questions, and most importantly, he directed us on how to get access to three NASA GCN servers that process the raw telemetric data.
So how do we make this data accessible to the average human being?
SkyWatch pulls all of this data into a Twitter-like stream in the users web browser. Each event receives its own card. The cards have been styled in a way to make the most important information stand out proportionally. We convert descriptions into easy-to-understand terms; provide a source/author; provide the astronomical coordinates; and include a photo of the observation;
The left side of SkyWatch's UI has been dedicated to data visualization. One layer of the data visualization is the Google Maps API. Using this we are able to pinpoint and visualize where on Earth all of the observations being made are coming from. In the bottom-left of the UI is a visibility meter which lets the user gauge his/her chances of seeing the event themselves from their own location. The next layer is the Google Sky API. By what can only be described as amazing, users can click on a card to see a visualization of exactly where in the cosmos this event is taking place. You'll have to see it to believe it. And finally, for those who want to dig in deeper, the XML schema of all events are available within one click.
Aside from the data visualizations, the next most important part is our filtering & subscribe systems. Thousands of events are created everyday, so how can you follow only the ones that you want (like Twitter)? We've given users the ability to filter by event type, source, and date range for now. This means if I only to want to see events regarding supernovas then that is what I'll get it. It's that simple. Subscribing is a simple as a couple clicks as well. Users can subscribe via email notifications, RSS, or by following our Twitter feed!
So why is SkyWatch so important?
We built SkyWatch with the philosophy that if you want people to reach for the stars, they'll have to know they exist first. We know that spectacular events happen in the cosmos. Unfortunately we tend to hear about them in press releases and not through a primary source. SkyWatch is removing the obstructions - the technology; the language; the code - and opening up the gates of the cosmos to the average human being to be discovered firsthand.
What could the future hold for SkyWatch?
Simply stated, to change the way the world views the stars. Imagine a Twitter-like platform where people all over the world can follow what is happening in the skies at all times. Added to the Twitter-like stream is a sea of data visualized in a consumable form. It can have the power to teach and to inspire. Social collaboration could become a huge component as different types of media could be aggregated to create stories for each event taking place. The average person would have the ability to contribute to the storytelling of the cosmos.
We've also envisioned science centers and museums with the SkyWatch UI paired with a telescope. Children and adults alike could simply use their fingers to select an event on SkyWatch and magically watch the telescope shift it's focus to these new coordinates. A 7-year-old may soon be able to witness the same supernova a NASA scientist is witnessing, at the same time, all at the touch of a button.
The sky is not the limit.
License: Apache License 2.0 (Apache-2.0)
Source Code/Project URL: https://github.com/ryanovas/alert-alert
Sky Alert - http://skyalert.org/
Wikipedia - VOEvents - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VOEvent
Gamma-ray Coordinates Network (GCN) - http://gcn.gsfc.nasa.gov/
The Astronomer's Telegram - http://www.astronomerstelegram.org/
Technical Details of GCN - http://gcn.gsfc.nasa.gov/tech_describe.html