Provide a powerful platform and people will do amazing things with it. The latest example: The “Blind Astrometry Server“, a piece of internet software that pulls imagesfrom the Astrometry group on Flickr.com, analyzes those images against the Astrometry.net project‘s database,and automagically figures out what parts of the sky are in the photos.It then adds that information in a comment on Flickr and adds Flickr tags to the image indicating the more interesting objects in the photo. Not only do users get their sky photos analyzed this way, but the Astrometry project gets new images to add to its database against which to compare later images.
In effect, the Blind Astrometry Server crowdsources the work of cataloguing and photographing the night sky (a public benefit), and makes it valuable to the crowd by providing a service in return, the identification and tagging of each image (an individual benefit).
I have a very high definition photograph of part of the night sky (the Milky Way including and above Sagittarius) taken by my friend Bryan Delodder on an extremely slow exposure. Most slowexposures of the night sky show the rotation of the Earth in theapparent movement of the stars, but when Bryan took this photo he attached his camera to a tracking telescope, not looking through the telescope but simply moving along with the apparent movement of the stars. The result is a long exposure (40 minutes!) in which each star comes through as a perfect point. Far more stars are visible in the long exposure than would otherwise be visible, because so much time was allowed for the camera to collect the light. I’m going to ask Bryan if an image of this is online somewhere, because I’d love it if we could contribute it to the Astrometry.net project (and get an automated analysis of it too).