Utilizing Mapping Features to Explore the Cosmos

In our last class we talked extensively about timeline mapping features and modern day collaborations that would allow us to map the entire history of human civilizations online. It’s important to remember though that throughout human history, Geography is not the only mapping that we have achieved. Humans have always turned their eyes to the stars with wonder, and have always attempted to achieve a grasp on the cosmos by mapping our universe. It wasn’t until Copernicus arrived around 1540 that we had our first accurate view of the solar system however. That means that most of the major astronomical discoveries have only happened in the last 3.5% of human existence, and these discoveries are accelerating.

A large reason for the increasing rate of cosmological discoveries is, in part, due to the collaboration (academic and online) that has been taking place around the world in the last century. Much like TimeMapper and Running Reality, there are many different programs that allow for both scientists and regular star enthusiasts to contribute their findings online. I’m going to introduce and discuss a couple of those options below.

The first website we explore is http://stars.chromeexperiments.com/ (link below). This is an online collaborative effort to map approximately 100,000 studied and named stars by astronomers. It is a 3D simulation that, beginning centered at our own sun, allows us to zoom out and explore the stars within our small cluster of the Milky Way. On top of that, each star is color schemed, such that anybody is able to explore the heat of the star, and through wikipedia deduce the type of star. This is a valuable tool in cataloguing and studying our region of the universe. Part of the value comes in the fact that it’s virtually limitless; as long as there are stars that could be explored, this catalogue can be continually expanded.

100,000 Stars

Moving on we discuss the virtual planetarium, Starry Night. The beauty of Starry Night lies in the fact that the default setting is real time. This allows us to explore actual cosmological events as they’re happening both in real life, as well as from a computer, from anywhere in the world. Above and beyond that, the position of the observer can be changed to any place in the Solar System, the Milky Way, or any Surrounding Galaxies, which is a huge step in allowing us to better understand and map the universe from multiple different vantage points; an invaluable tool in creating a complete picture of the universe. The stars and their locations in the night sky given from the data of four different star catalogues, which is almost unheard of in the realm of collaborative astronomical mapping. It’s important to note, however, that Starry Night is not a free application, and is most utilized by professionals and star enthusiasts.

Starry Night Pro

And finally, last but not least, I’d like to just make the class aware of an unbelievable free government service that not many people are aware they have access to: NASA. One of the things that makes NASA one of the most successful government agencies in the history of the US is their data sharing capabilities. Not every tool they develop is kept behind lock and key, and is in fact readily available online for anybody’s personal use. My favorite example of this is their willingness and ability to share data and images from the Hubble Space Telescope. Below I’ve attached the clearest image ever created of our closest neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy; so clear in fact that 600 HD TVs would be required to showcase the whole picture at full resolution. Whether it be professional or recreational, I believe it’s essential that people are made aware of what is accessible to them.

Sharpest Ever Image of Andromeda Galaxy

Hubble Images

I know that Astronomy is considered a Natural Science, and not a Humanity, but the idea of sharing and collecting data amongst different parties is a very human endeavor. It drives not only scientific development, but human development as well. It’s important to note that many of these mapping tools are only made possible because of the techniques and ideas that had been developed in studying geographic maps, such as the ones our class explored from the middle ages. Science and the Humanities go far more hand in hand than many give them credit to, and Digital Humanities is the bridging of the gap that helps to connect them.


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