Central Spark is software that simplifies, automates, and speeds up submission of astronomical sightings and discoveries to central object databases, social media feeds, and “Internet of Things” cloud services.
The Central Spark project will develop software extensions to the Slooh web site to integrate the submission of astronomical sightings to central object databases (such as those maintained by the Minor Planet Center) into the observational program. The software will be incorporated into the Slooh remote telescope user interface, which will simplify and speed up the reporting of scientifically useful object sightings by automating and reducing the number of steps and amount of data entry that is required in order to make a submission to such databases. Automating the submission process should also help to reduce errors.
The initial software development work will be based on the current web user interface to the MPC database, however it is expected that during the project timeframe the MPC will be beta testing new interfaces designed to facilitate automated submissions to the database, which capability will also be incorporated within the Central Spark project. In addition, we will work with other database maintainers such as NASA JPL to ensure that Slooh observers can streamline the submission of observations to those databases.
In addition to enhancements to automate the submission of observations will be work to enable the submission of observation and activity reports to social media such as Twitter. The purpose of using social media feeds to report telescope observations is primarily educational. Social media offer an opportunity to reach out and recruit new observers who might not otherwise discover the fun of amateur astronomy. Twitter messages accompanied by photographs would be particularly effective in capturing the excitement of amateur astronomers making remote observations through professional-quality equipment installed at an exotic site featuring extraordinarily clear skies. The plan is for Central Spark to incorporate social media posting within the Slooh user interface so that Tweeting of observer activity is painless. Posts can be made to Slooh-maintained Twitter feeds geared to different types of observing – one feed for asteroid observations, another one for planetary observAations, another for deep sky objects, and the like. In addition, users will be able to post to their own social media feeds. Twitter is given as an example only – there are other social media sites such as Pinterest and Facebook that would be good venues for posting astronomical observation reports for public consumption.
A third component of the Central Spark project will be enabling Slooh users to submit observations to “Internet of Things” cloud services such as Xively.com and Dweet.io in order to enable machine-to-machine communication of observation coordinates as well as facilitating the creation of archives of observation activities for later analysis. We hope that making this data available will lead to novel ways of visualizing astronomical observation activity and raising awareness of amateur astronomy, by unleashing the creativity of makers, students and amateur scientists who can incorporate the data in projects of their own design. Such projects might involve the use of microcontrollers or single-board computers (such as the Raspberry Pi), or wearable computing, or smartphone and tablet-based interfaces. Central Spark will also conduct workshops through the Fairfield County Makers’ Guild and the Westport Library MakerSpace to publicize the Asteroid Grand Challenge and amateur astronomy, including creation of projects based on the Slooh asteroid observation data, and a live presentation simulcast over the Internet featuring observations made via the Slooh telescopes in the Canary Islands.