|The Night Sky: Live Daily on a Computer Near You
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9, 2004--If you lie on your back in one of the world's best stargazing
spots and you have better than perfect vision, you might see the
firmament as portrayed on Robert Nemiroff's Night Sky Live webpage.|
webpage, at http://www.nightskylive.net, is part of the CONCAM (for
"CONtinuous CAMera") sky monitoring project, which was started in in
1999 by physics professor Nemiroff and former graduate dean Bruce Rafert. "We wanted to record the night sky for posterity," Nemiroff says.
page displays photos taken by cameras with fisheye lenses at some of
the world's major observatories. The images are then sent via computer
and posted on the website, creating a continuous record of the night
CONCAMs, which fit in briefcase-size plastic cases, may be
the world's smallest astronomical observatories. Unlike big,
high-powered telescopes, they show the entire sky from sites scattered
all over the world, so the CONCAM network is much more likely to
capture unusual cosmic events than a large telescope narrowly focused
on, say, a distant galaxy that's invisible to the naked eye.
and Rafert deployed their first CONCAM in April 2000, and the project
has grown bigger and more sophisticated ever since. Currently, they
have 10 CONCAMs at major observatories in Hawaii, California, Arizona,
Florida, Chile, the Canary Islands, South Africa, Israel and Australia.
Sky Live isn't just for astronomers. It brings telescopic images to
anyone with curiosity and access to a networked computer. "If you are
in Australia and you can't see the lunar eclipse happening on the other
side of the world, you can see it on Night Sky Live," Nemiroff says.
Then, if you want, you can ask questions and post comments on the Night
Sky Live bulletin board.
Scientific American honored Night Sky
Live with a 2004 Science & Technology Web Award (see
). The page also got a mention in the Oct. 15 edition of Science in its
Night Sky Live has received funding from the National Science Foundation, NASA
and Michigan Tech, and is maintained with the help of several
undergraduates and two graduate students, Tilvi Vithal and Lior Shamir.
With Night Sky Live and his other web endeavor, Astronomy
Picture of the Day (see http://apod.nasa.gov/), Nemiroff has
accidentally found himself managing two great sites for anyone with an
interest in the cosmos.
"The Night Sky Live project was not
originally intended to be an outreach tool," he says. "Its primary
purpose remains scientific discovery, although we feel it does have
significant outreach potential."
When they created the Astronomy
Picture of the Day site in 1995, Nemiroff and his co-author, Jerry
Bonnell of the Universities Space Research Association, aimed to stem
what Nemiroff calls "the rising tide of unannotated and bizarrely
misunderstood astronomy images from flooding the web."
astronomy is still alive and well on the web, but the Astronomy Picture
of the Day has been good for other things, including providing source
material for Nemiroff's 2003 coffee table book, "The Universe: 365
Days." And thousands of Internet users find plenty of good science
every day at Night Sky Live and APOD.