Friday, March 16, 2012

Reason #155: Space Cartography

Man, is there any word that can't be made cooler by putting "space" in front of it?

For two years, NASA's WISE (Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer) satellite has been gathering extensive data on the entirety of the night sky. After producing more than 2.7 million images and 15 terabytes of data--and prompting around a hundred papers detailing its myriad discoveries--the total output has been boiled down into a relatively puny 18 thousand images that nevertheless encompass all visible space.

And as of this week, that data, essentially an atlas of space, has been provided for free online in the form of the 320-gigabyte-total "All-Sky Data Release". Included with the images is a searchable catalog of an unbelievable 563 million things.

I say "searchable" in the loosest possible sense, because while the data is totally open to perusal, it can only be downloaded in chunks, and the current website interface leaves a lot to be desired. Luckily, NASA is also providing tutorials and "application programming interfaces", which means that eventually someone who's not an astrophysicist will be able to turn it into something a little more user-friendly.

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