October 22, 2010

Exoplanets and Open Data

Something exciting is brewing behind the scenes between Exoplanets and Open Data. The developer of the excellent Exoplanet App (for iPhone) has started a repository on GitHub for Exoplanet datasets, called The Open Exoplanet Catalogue. The great thing is that this repository is a mix of automated and community-driven movement in terms of keeping up with the fast-paced incoming stream of raw exoplanet data. It opens up an open massive data set (OMDS) for the exoplanet community to tinker with.

The automated part, which interests me a lot--is a python script that pulls in the latest updates from our exoplanet pointman named Jean Schneider from the great Exoplanet Encyclopedia.

Here’s how I can briefly describe the process: Jean Schneider gets new exoplanet information, updates his database. The python “bot” script grabs Jean's newly-updated exoplanet data and re-generates new exoplanet XML files, then puts them to github. You may download and peek at that bot script from here. And most importantly, you can grab the latest exoplanet dataset in all it's XML glory--ready to be consumed by any app or software you can dream of.

For the community-driven part of the setup, anyone can contribute scripts. An example would be for someone to write a derivative of the python script to churn out exoplanet files into JSON format, instead of XML.

It is still on the early stages so at this point "some branches of this repository are updated automatically...and the master branch is updated manually for now, to ensure consistency."

This repository is everything I’ve ever wished for. And I am thankful for it. This would be very useful for the renewed field of Data Visualization, and Data Journalism. This system will truly benefit the community of Open Data Journalists and Researchers within the exoplanet community. On a side note, for all the Android Developers out there: Here’s all the latest data, now please build the Exoplanet App for Android! And for those who can code, please contribute to this endeavor!

"The purpose of the Internet will be to catch the alien mind. It will be coded by human fingers, but it will be truly alien."
~Terence Mckenna

Python Bot Script
The Open Exoplanet Catalogue at GitHub