Some call it the data deluge, others the Fourth Paradigm – whatever your phrase of choice, it’s undeniable that science is increasingly driven by the easy availability of large amounts of data. The web is instrumental in their dissemination around the world. Web service providers such as Amazon enable storage of and access to data in the cloud. Continuing our progress in the exploration of the natural world depends ever more crucially on our ability to curate data and extract information from it.
On the last day of .Astronomy, David Hogg gave a talk on the paper he posted with collaborator Dustin Lang to astro-ph last week. In the paper Lang & Hogg describe how they reconstructed the orbit of Comet 17P/Holmes, which was prominently visible in the night sky in 2007, from images posted to the web by amateur photographers. After performing a Yahoo! image search and sorting out the relevant pictures, they ran their image set through the Astronomy.net system. Astrometry.net, created by Lang, cleverly attempts to calculate an astrometric calibration of astronomical images that contain no positional information, by fitting the positions of stars to known asterisms.