Where science and tech meet creativity.

I invite all of you to view the movie trailer for the International Year of Astronomy, and if you are a teacher, please share this video with your students (it only needs attribution to be used widely).

Last week I mentioned that I was working on the Portal to the Universe. At this time, I can safely say the website (which I purposely didn’t link to before) is very out of date. The Portal is growing in scope as we learn the needs of you, the New Media audience. I believe we have the full feature list determined finally, (even if we still are writing up our descriptions). The document the Portal team has been working on is now over 20 pages, and over the coming months I want to share with you what we have planned and invite your ideas and participation in our programs.

Today, in response to Blue Collar, I want to talk about IYA’s Portal and your access to images.

Across the field of astronomy we have a lot of images. Heck, across the hard drives in just this house I have enough images to count as “a lot” (several 1000 on old ZIP disks of all things). Across the field of astronomy we have some way bigger – perhaps unimaginably bigger – than “a lot” of images.

One of the side effects of this plethora of pictures is it is really hard to find images. Seriously. We all probably use the same 200 images of galaxies, planets, the clusters, etc over and over and over across our blogs and news feeds. When I talk about Galaxy Clusters, I’ll go grab a famous Hubble image, because I know how to find it. This isn’t the only image of a cluster. I could in fact get 100s of images of clusters from Sloan if I wanted. It just would take me too much time. I could probably even find some stunning amateur images of Virgo or Coma if I just knew where to look, but I don’t.

What is needed is an efficient version of Google Image search that serves up science images using keywords to cull down the results to a useful sample based on things like image size, quality, wavelength, object type(s), and even tags like (Abell, lens, cluster, etc). This taxonomy of metadata is being developed today, and is called VAMP. If any of you have used the latest version of FITSLiberator, you may have noticed it has the beginnings of a VAMP interface.

With the Portal to the Universe, we make this dream search engine a reality (funding pending of course). Here’s a couple different ways it will work. Say you are a web savvy, website having, VAMP loving observatory. You can tag your images and then register your images/image catelogue with the Portal, and people will be able to do advanced image searches through the Portal that will potentially take them to your site. This feature will allow Hubble images and your images to be searched side-by-side (with admittedly different observatory codes, unless you are an HST observer). It will also mean that when I need a 1200 pixel wide image of the Sagittarius constellation from a piggy backed camera I’ll be able to find it without contemplating Seppuku.

Now, we recognize that not all of you have webspace, and some of you are fabulous astroimagers. For you, we will create webspace (but place mb limits on you), and you will be able to upload your images to the Portal.

Part of my vision for this is to promote astro-image feeds side by side with astronomy blog feeds. Imagine if your local club created an “Image of the Week” for club members to submit too that people could then subscribe to the same way the subscribe to APOD. Imagine that you just happen to catch a photo of an amazing fireball during next year’s Leonids, but you don’t have a website – our vision for the portal will allow you to share that image with the world.

It is a big vision, and may require a certain amount of “Let’s work through Flickr.” The details are still being sorted out, but we aren’t afraid to dream big. And we invite you to dream with us. What do you want to see? How do you want to share astronomy with the world?

We’re listening. This is only 1 small part of the Portal, and to succeed, even this one small part will need your help. Specifically – VAMP VAMP VAMP. Start tagging with tonight’s new image run. To work, we’ll need you to use metadata. And for this to work, we need to know out metadata is right for you.

We’re listening, and we’re planning. IYA 2009. The Universe, Yours to Discover.

Please participate in our forums here.

Want to support IYA? Add this badge (or one of your choosing, and I’ll have more here later) to your website and link to http://www.astronomy2009.us or http://www.astronomy2009.org.