Internet and astronomy

Internet and astronomy

Astronomers have used the Internet since its inception, long before it reached the general public, when it was a rudimentary form of communication, more than twenty years ago. Subsequently, with the explosion of the "web", its use has been enhanced and extended in this and in all sciences.

Generally, astronomical observatories are located in remote locations, so communication is essential. On the other hand, high project costs require the collaboration of several countries, and the means provided by the Internet make it possible. In addition, the high number of digital images taken by terrestrial and space telescopes has allowed the creation of files accessible through the network, especially the content provided by the NASA and ESA space agencies.

The dissemination of images and astronomical data is fully justified by the curiosity that astronomy arouses. In addition, the quality of the photos contributes decisively to its popularity. For example, the observation campaign that took place in July 1994, on the occasion of the impact of comet Shoemaker-Levy with Jupiter was impressive. Never has an astronomical event been reported so quickly and efficiently.

Afterwards, the distribution of images from Mars provided by the Pathfinder mission saturated certain information servers due to the high number of accesses.

Fans, alone or in groups and associations, have always been very relevant in Astronomy. Amateur astronomers have discovered a multitude of new star objects, such as novae and supernovae, and continuously provide observations of variable stars. Internet is important for these amateur groups, since it allows the coordination of observation campaigns, as well as the exchange of ideas, projects, data, and astronomical programs.

On the other hand, there are about 12,000 specialized scientists and technicians, located mainly in research centers and universities in Europe, the United States and Japan.

Virtually all observatories have information systems on the Internet. In them it is possible to find a detailed description of the instruments, the observation plans and the observations made. New forms of remote observation are being investigated, which allow some interaction with the telescope in real time.

With all the data circulating on the Internet many archives and astronomical databases have been filled that are fundamental research tools. Mass storage techniques, together with the current development of the Internet, make it possible to perform at low cost. Current research topics are the new methods of statistical analysis for application in cosmology, stellar evolution, or classification of objects.

The main astronomical journals, both professional and popular, also publish articles electronically on the web. In addition, there are many "sites", more or less independent, that offer detailed information on specific aspects or organize this information in different ways and in all languages.

There are other interesting information services, such as the NASA television channel, which continuously provides images of space missions through the Internet; the information services of astronomical societies, from the International Astronomical Union to the innumerable amateur associations; those related to the History of Astronomy; and other centers that store and distribute images for dissemination.

To try to put some order in the middle of the 1990s, AstroWeb was created, a consortium that tries to maintain a unified list. However, the vertiginous growth of the Internet makes it impossible to keep it up to date. Today it contains about 3,000 addresses dedicated to Astronomy, classified according to one or more thematic categories.

In the area of ​​disclosure, there is a problem because most of the information available on the Internet is written in English. Fortunately, astronomical associations are making fundamental contributions in this field, and we cannot forget the growing presence on the Internet of science museums and planetariums, which allows them to carry out excellent dissemination work.

In this sense, AstroMía provides a vision of astronomy "for all audiences", with an educational vocation and, of course, in Spanish.

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