March 3, 2011

The Exoscope

We are visual creatures. We want to understand things from the context of a larger view. And that is true with all the exoplanets we have known so far. How can you relate with these amazing orbs in a more direct way? When you look up in the night sky, where are the exoplanets?

{Drum roll}...The Exoscope.

The Exoscope is a web-based tool to enable you to see the locations of exoplanets in the sky. It's a tool for Exogazing, the activity of spotting stars with known exoplanets.

Exoscope is actually a spin of the awesome Chromoscope. The ability to change and blend the background to different wavelengths gives that dramatic feeling, and that is why I love Chromoscope so much!

The excellent developer, Stuart Lowe (@astronomyblog) and others did all the work to bring you that awesome goodness of chromoscope. I simply imported an exoplanet KML file, and the chromoscope engine did all the rest of putting the markers for the locations of the stars with known exoplanets.

Really, I didn’t do much. I just downloaded the chromoscope application (which is freely available) and added two lines of code to import the exoplanet KML and show the constellations by default. And that was it!

The hard work is actually up ahead. And that is how to always keep the exoplanet KML file updated.

I need help and ideas on how to generate the exoplanet KML file from the most updated source of exoplanet data, The Exoplanet Encyclopaedia. Also, I need some script to generate KML files from a CouchDB couchapp. So, if anyone can give leads on that regard, please ping me. For now, some info i can provide for whoever wants to take up the challenge is this: The developer of the most excellent exoplanet app for the iPhone/iPad (@exoplanetapp) has provided a digestible format of Jean Schneider’s exoplanet data, via The Open Exoplanet Catalogue. So, all I need is for someone to generate JSON data in addition to the XML files. I seriously need JSON so I can import them into my CouchDB exoplanet database app (which is also another work in progress).

Other tasks on the pipeline for this mini-project are:
1) How to center the field of view (FOV) on the exoplanet via a link from other sources (such as The Exoplanet Seeker). I like how WikiSky does it so i hope to implement the same thing.
2) How to host the image files into my own Amazon S3 account to ease the burden from Chromoscope.
3) How to add other stunning backgrounds
4) Cosmetic styling, and UX improvement for each exoplanet popup window (and how to pipe in data dynamically)

That’s it for now. I Hope that even while it’s still in progress, you’ll enjoy the stunning exoplanet landscape from The Exoscope!

The Exoscope
The Open Exoplanet Catalogue
Exoplanet Encyclopedia