January 6, 2009

Exoplanet data: A landscape to be filled and mined

Exoplanet DataThis post is about the data aspect behind the study of exoplanets.
I learned the other day that Kepler was one of the first advocates of freely sharing scientific data. In the spirit of astronomy and open source, I would like to call on the organizations behind planet-hunting telescopes and the soon-to-be-launched new generation telescopes to eventually share the data to enable amateurs to help in the discovery of new exoplanets. (winks at NASA)
Perhaps we can revolutionize amateursourcing and take it to new levels. "Amateur" comes from latin word amatore which means "lover" or "lover of". You'll be amazed at the power of love!
On another vein, I would like to invite enthusiasts to contribute to exoplanet data on Freebase - an open database of structured information.
When information is structured, you can systematically query and extract useful information far more easily and quickly. With Freebase, you can ask questions like "Which exoplanets are habitable that are older than earth?" or "Which exoplanets discovered via Gravitational Microlensing lie within the Habitable Zone (HZ)?". You can then get answers fairly easily using their query language (MQL). This ability to tap into structured data could provide us with unprecedented insights into the study of Exoplanets.
The only problem right now is that we don't have enough data yet in there to extract useful correlations. And that is why you are needed. Once you jump in and contribute data, you'll have so much fun learning, too.
"I learn as I contribute" is the mantra I have discovered in my experience with Freebase. Alternately, it's also true the other way around: I contribute what I learn.
Here's a tip for any enthusiast, researcher and student of exoplanets: Open Freebase in a window pointed at the exoplanetology base or exoplanet table. Then start with a question. Don't worry if it sounds silly. A question will get you going. Say, "Which terrestrial exoplanet is closest to Earth?" Then try playing with the filters and views. The advanced filter has been the most fun for me, coupled with edting the views.
This exercise will enable you to begin seeing the missing pieces of data that are needed to answer your question(s).
You may then have to go to noteworthy sites like the The Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia to get the bits of data that you need. Some other sources of data can be found in this list of catalogs for cross-referencing.
Then try entering these gems of data into Freebase.
Soon enough, you'll find out that having the capability to query structured multi-dimensional data makes Freebase a wonderful tool for Science2.0. But first we need the data and the volunteers to make it happen! :)
Come on, join the fun, and show the love!