Where science and tech meet creativity.

IYAAbout a year ago I got a random email from Doug Isbell asking me if I’d be interested in being part of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA). I’d previously heard about this project, but having gotten a good last out of the non-event that was the World Year of Physics, I have to admit I hadn’t given it  much thought. But… When you’re asked to think about helping build something you give it more then a passing brain firing. As you know, if you’ve been reading this for a while, I let Doug suck me into the IYA program and now I’m a chair of the New Media working group. A year later, I’m proud to be part of this organization, and I think IYA will be something that is more then free lapel pins at conferences. I believe their goal of giving everyone an experience in astronomy (even if we have to attack people in grocery store parking lots!) just might be possible. (Can you see it now? Your typical older male amateur astronomer with a 12inch dob in their arms chasing moms with shopping carts filled with kids and food as they try and force astronomy on the public?)

One of the great things about being part of the dynamic team that is building IYA is getting to see this project grow and evolve. Today IYA announced the hiring of their  core staff, and guess what: I’m part of it. In a press release issued by the IYA co-chairs, Doug Isbell and Susana Deustua, the United States IYA program announced the hiring of Steve Pompae as the US Program Director and the Andrea Schweitzer and Kristina Harding as the Project Manager and her assistant (think super hero side kick). I’ll be the IYA Web Developer (like you couldn’t have guessed that).

In addition to these staff hirers (which don’t really effect your day to day lives), people are gearing up their activities in preparation for the big kick off. In some cases, this includes lots of paperwork flying around as projects are defined. In other cases, this  includes tools getting upgraded and updated.

One such tool is FITsLiberator.  Back in the old days, I used to go to terrible pains to try and take my nice science images and turn them into pretty pictures (I’m on the wrong computer to share). It required getting everything just so in IRAF and then printing to file, and then layering in Photoshop, and much ftping between my Sun SparcStation and my Windows PC (these were the press OS X days). Then NRAO came out with FITSview, and I could at least get things from FITS to photoshop all using 1 computer. (WOOT!) But… But it was still a serious pain. Until one magical day when the ESO announced the creation of FITS Liberator, a plug-in for Photoshop that allows images to be directly imported into Photoshop. That’s right – process your images on the system of your choice, and you can go from FITS to pretty image in one software package.

The problem is, if you are like me and use an Intel Mac, FITS Liberator didn’t quite work unless you use Rosetta mode. I have to admit that rather then figure out what that is or how to access whatever it is, I’ve been pulling out my old PowerBook G4 laptop (the one I own, versus the ones my grants provide) whenever I need to make pretty images. This week, however, my need to pull out my old CPU has been shelved.  The wonderful team from NASA/ESA/ESO have released version 2.2 with a universal binary!

In addition to happily running on my MacBookPro (and Vista), this software also includes support for the new VAMP metadata. This new, but very little known, fledgling metadata for images is something that will hopefully make it possible to quickly and easily find images of specific wavelengths, sizes, and qualities. The IYA Cornerstone Project, “The Portal to the Universe,” will even let you index your images using their website and this metadata. Getting VAMP metadata into FITSliberator is a first step. It is an important step. And it is a step that makes my MacBookPro feel a bit more complete.

One tool at a time, IYA is becoming real.