Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Online Stargazing

Wired News: Star Hunting for the Rest of Us

When amateur astronomer Tim Puckett pointed his telescope at a distant galaxy and spotted an exploding star known as a supernova, he felt like he had just struck gold.

But then the clouds rolled in, threatening to keep him from taking the follow-up image that he needed to confirm his discovery.

So Puckett did what every tech-savvy space buff would do: He turned to the web.

Soon, he had a telescope in the Canary Islands trained on his star. Puckett snapped a photo, downloaded the image and confirmed that he had indeed discovered a supernova.

It's a feeling that many amateur astronomers may soon experience if a New York-based company called Slooh has anything to do with it.

Slooh runs the web-enabled telescope and digital camera that Puckett and nearly 5,000 other space enthusiasts use to scan the skies. The company owns two telescopes on Mount Teide in the Canary Islands. For $50 a year, subscribers to the company's service can see what Slooh's telescopes see when they point to pre-selected sites. Or, they can reserve five-minute blocks of time on one of the telescopes to gaze at targets on their own.

Paolucci believes Slooh's web-based program removes barriers by giving people cheap access to powerful telescopes located in ideal viewing spots around the world.

"This is what the net is made for," said Paolucci. "The idea of harnessing the power of equipment that people could not otherwise afford and allowing them to co-opt it virtually is the strength of the medium."

Wired News: Star Hunting for the Rest of Us


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