First robotic telescope network with access via Internet to be built
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Internauts will be able to connect to 17 telescopes on four continents to share observation time
A world network of robotic telescopes is to be developed as part of a European citizen science project that has just kicked off at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid's Facultad de Informática. The network, to which any citizen will be able to connect and share observation time, will offer free open access via the Internet.
The European project is called Gloria (GLObal Robotic telescopes Intelligent Array for e-Science). Gloria will be a tool for amateur astronomists to research astronomy either using robotic telescopes or analysing astronomical data available in Gloria's or other organization's public databases. Gloria is a three-year project with a budget of 2.5 million euros.
The European project draws on the experience of the Montegancedo Observatory, located at the Facultad de Informática. The Montegancedo Observatory is the first free open access astronomical observatory in the world. The observatory is remote controlled using Ciclope Astro software, mantained by the UPM's Ciclope group. This software will be used by the world robotic telescope network.
Ciclope Astro provides a number of tools for running astronomical experiments, scenario building and remote telescope, camera and dome control. Any internaut can enter the observatory from their home to experience astronomy first hand.
Francisco Sánchez, Director of the Montegancedo Observatory, is the coordinator of this European project with 13 partners from Russia, Chile, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Czech Republic, Poland and Spain. The partners held a three-day meeting last week at the Facultad de Informática to plan project development.
A network of 17 telescopes will be the seed of the Gloria project that is to offer free Web 2.0 access to internauts from all over the world. The first of these robotic telescopes will be available via the network within a year.
All the robotized telescopes will share the same software, maintained by Gloria project members. Internet access to the telescopes is based on the same Ciclope Astro software as controls the Montegancedo Observatory.
Apart from the 17 telescopes, two user experiments will be run as part of the project. The experiments will be coordinated by the University of Oxford, creators of Galaxy Zoo, an online initiative that invites members to classify around a million galaxies.
Gloria will also organize educational activities, such as broadcasting astronomical events, to attract new users. For this purpose, it will sponsor the next four Sky Live Internet television missions.
The Gloria project sets out to bring amateur astronomers from all over the world together to exploit their collective intelligence and foster participation in astronomical research based on data analysis and astronomical observations.
Telescope use will be managed using the karma technique, which defines a reputation or rating. This method, which has been successfully applied by Web 2.0 sites, automatically distributes the observing times of major users according to the network use criterion.
This will make Gloria a network for citizen science, capable of increasing research quality through open networks and e-infrastructures.
During the project, a foundation will be set up to safeguard any documentation and open software generated. The foundation will also assure that the community of partner internauts can be maintained and continue growing even after the Gloria project ends.
Gloria targets any citizen with an interest in astronomy, such as schoolchildren and students, who can contemplate the universe, learn more about astronomy and directly participate in scientific experiments from their own home.
The robotic telescopes that are to join the network are now self-financing, and their participation in the Gloria project will generate no extra costs.