March 7, 2009

A New Exocatalog for Reference and Fun

A day after the successful launch of Kepler, news came out that The Planetary Society has built a new Catalog of Exoplanets.
It is absolutely wonderful! The "online Exoplanet Trading Card" idea is great. The visualization of information on a small space was done nicely. Sure, it could use some style improvements but hey, in a glance, you can pretty much pick out relevant info quickly, and that's what matters.
I love the "Planet Mass Color Legend". For now most planets in the animations are colored red to blue (Jupiter-like & Gas Giants), but pretty soon, Kepler's discoveries will usher in the "green" Earth-sized planets!
The "Exoplanet comparison" feature is very helpful. It makes certain properties stand out when exoplanets are compared head to head.
The "Discovery Code" is new to me, but is very handy to quickly find out how an exoplanet was discovered, and when. For example, an exoplanet with a discovery code of "TR08" means that it was discovered via the Transit Method in 2008.
The animation provides an instant hint as to how eccentric the orbit is.Exoplanet
If The Planetary Society provided an API to their database, developers might be able to create some kind of game, such as an "Exoplanet Stand-Off Battle", or simple games similar to what Spore have been able to create from their creatures database.
Everything is really swell, the potential is enormous and I can see this catalog to grow in scope and size in the near future.
There is only one missing thing that I'm still looking for among all the Exoplanet Catalogs out there: The Constellation. It is a much-needed parameter for me because all these exoplanet numbers would become overwhelming to laypeople if there is no way to "connect" with it in some way.
If the Constellation parameter is present, then regular folks like me will have a practical way to make sense of it "personally"--by going out at night and looking up to which section of the sky a particular exoplanet can be "found". I have called this activity as Exogazing.
You'll have to trust me on this: There is absolutely an added bonus when you're looking up the night sky at pinpoints of light that you know holds other worlds. Being able to look in the direction of the exoplanet in the night sky makes an otherwise boring table of numbers become much more interesting for regular folks like me.
For now, I've been intermittently entering the constellation data to the Freebase catalog of Exoplanets, but only for those that I come across during my Exogazing sessions. The research to find out which constellation a particular host star belongs to is quite time-consuming. So I hope that The Planetary Society will consider this humble request in future upgrades to their Exoplanet Catalog.
Kudos to The Planetary Society for this awesome undertaking! This catalog is a very important contribution to exoplanet research. It will serve as a valuable resource to the Exoplanets Galore!