Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, May 04, 2007

Opening the sky

Wikisky is a cross between a virtual telescope, database of astronomical data, digital library of astronomical texts, annotatable wiki, and Google Earth for the sky --all free online from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS).

Thanks to Glyn Moody for the alert and for this enticing description:

Aside from the joy of being able to zoom around and into the sky just as you would over Google Earth, and the awe-inspiring sight of thousands - millions - of major structures there (the Sloan Digital Sky Survey is simply gob-smacking), where Wikisky really comes into its own is in its annotation.

As you mouse-over objects, a pop-up gives you basic information. Clicking on that object takes you to a page with links to detailed images and - most importantly - to relevant papers. This is one reason why the heavenly mashup is superior to mundane ones: there is already a huge quantity of relevant, neatly-packaged information available for the objects on the mesh in the form of published scientific papers.

The only problem is that not all of this information is freely available (though often the preprint versions are): some of the papers requires subscriptions or one-off payments. This shows, once more, why open access to research papers is vital if we are to get the full benefit of such amazing sites as Wikisky: without it, mashups are frankly messed-up.