Over at Astronomy Blog Stuart is currently working on a project to define an xml-based schema which could be used by the various institutions and organisations running the world’s professional telescopes to release information about their observing. The idea would be that people, from amateurs to other professionals, from schools to planetarium developers, could take this schema and use it in their applications to give people a better appreciation of the work of the professionals and further open up the skies to our curious gaze.
There are a myriad of benefits to such an appraoch, the main one being that it will be easier to collaborate globally on projects, particularly those which can be aided by numerous observations and ancilliary data. It could also encourage a greater understanding of the sky: imagine a mashup that took live telescope data and fed it through to Google Sky taking you straight to the nebula they were observing, and then bringing in data from other external sources to tell you what we know already and what we might find out in the future. Imagine then printing the sky chart out and going and finding it yourself with your telescope or binoculars. I’m sure at the moment this sounds more appealing to the geeks, but I think it could also be a valuable tool for, for example, school science lessons where real observing, for obvious reasons, is difficult to arrange.
It seems like an excellent idea and I’ll be watching future developments.