July 18, 2012

Oh What A Tangled Exoweb...

As everyone in the exoplanet community have noticed, the Exoplanet Encyclopedia (exoplanet.eu) has updated its site with a nifty new look along with new functionalities. It's great. And I love change. The only thing is that it broke my Total Known Exoplanets Chrome Extension. I didn't think anyone ever uses it, until a twitter user inquired on when it will be fixed. So i spent some time to fix it. And now i'm happy to report that the chrome extension is back up online again. Well, at least for now, it's not showing blank. I know it's showing a count that is still late by a factor of weeks but it will be improved on the next deployment. I will now explain the changes that happened under the hood and what it would mean onwards.
When exoplanet.eu changed its pages, my robotic HTML scraper was no longer getting the updated exoplanet count. Much as i tried, I can no longer grab hold of the updated count from that site. So i turned to the coolest open ExoAPI.com to provide the exoplanet count. Using a simple AJAX call, it returns some data that includes the total count. Of course there's always room for improvement and I contacted the awesome developers of ExoAPI to provide a function to grab *just* the total count for speed and lighter load. So now my exoplanet count chrome extension fully depends on ExoAPI to show the latest stats on exoplanets. And I got some new upgrades planned that will make use of ExoAPI some more. Yes, this is another use case showing how important an open exoplanet API is.
Here's some quirky curiousity on how Salaak and Silver Surfer keeps track of planets. I am definitely sure that they maintain a database of planets to do their job (it would be awesome to see at least one issue of green lantern corps mention that 'fact') and that they must have some form of API in order to pass along data and work with other advanced lifeforms' technology. In light of this fiction, can you imagine what it would mean if we suddenly made contact with a more advanced civilization? For some reason, I think that their web developers would be awesome enough as to provide an API for us to be able to access their own planet database. But prior to that, via the Known Worlds Law it is automatic that advanced civilizations have a huge database of planets containing information on gazillions of worlds. And I am optimistic that they will share that information--which would mean access to study trillions of planets!