Sunday, January 14, 2007

Robotic Astronomy

I knew it probably wouldn't take very long to find people writing about robots and robotics being used in space exploration. Take for example this recent article over at Universe Today. The first half of the article discusses the history of robotics, both in early sci-fi literature and more recently in everyday usage in industry and the home. The article ends with a description of the emergence of the robotic observatory. These observatories are further enhancing the already impressive capability of amateur astronomers to make significant contributions to the field.

This type of technology will almost certainly be deployed when NASA returns to the moon. I wouldn't be surprised if one of the first things they do upon their return is to set up a robotic observatory. Even a relatively modest setup could potentially rival some of the capabilities of the Hubble space telescope. Being located in close proximity to the proposed lunar outpost, the observatory could be upgraded and repaired on a fairly frequent basis (assuming the continuing presence of astronauts at the outpost and frequent resupply transports). With proper planning of upgrades, the capabilities of a lunar observatory could eventually be expanded far beyond that of the Hubble.

In other news, Google is pitching in to help with the data management aspects of a new astronomy collaboration which intends to capture the night sky in motion. Last month Google also announced that it would be teaming up with NASA at Ames Research Lab to help them handle the vast amounts of data that have been pouring in from the agency's robotic probes for the last fifty years.

For astronomers, data glut has always seemed to be a problem. It seems like every new instrument or observatory that comes online is capable of generating many times the amount of data than its operators can reasonably process. For a good example of how this data glut is benefiting one particular astronomer, take a look at this article by Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy regarding the Hubble parallel program. The good news is that much of this information is quickly released to the public. The bad news is that the information is not always easily accessible. Hopefully, Google will be able to help in that respect.

And finally (for this post anyway), Bruce Irving over at Music of the Spheres posts a brief observation about the proliferation of robotics in the home.

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