|The Austin Convention Center|
WWT is essentially a planetarium program enhanced with images from ground based telescopes, the Digitized Sky Survey, the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes as well as collections of satellite images from spacecraft around other planets.
|The Ring Nebula (M57)|
The features I was mostly interested in were not available as standard tools in WWT, but could be added later as data sets. Things like variable star catalogs, supernovae positions and images, and star catalogs going much deeper then Hipparcos and Tycho. I spent most of the interactive period talking with the software developer about the possibilities of further data sets. We discussed the possibilities for using this virtual telescope for training new AAVSO members and observers concepts in stellar evolution, distances in the universe and stellar population studies. We could create tours that were specifically AAVSO branded that could be released publicly as part of an education and outreach effort.
The VO environment is designed to facilitate astronomical research with a speed, efficiency, and effectiveness not previously possible, and it will be available to researchers around the globe regardless of their affiliation or access to observing facilities. The VO has the potential to provide a powerful resource for initiatives in education and public outreach. The US Virtual Astronomical Observatory (VAO) is the VO effort based in the US, and it is one of many VO projects currently underway around the world.
I've been hearing about the potential of the VO and VAO for over a decade now, and I can understand how it is supposed to work, but it seems to be taking a long time to live up to its potential, and as far as I can tell, it is not heavily used in the ways it was intended yet. Some of it may have to do with the complexity of the tools and user interface. What I found out yesterday was that part of the problem may be that the people working on the project, while brilliant software designers and experts in their fields, are some of the worst presenters I have come across at an astronomy conference.
In spite of the fact I came a day early specifically to take in these two workshops, I had to leave after the second presenter. I was sure I was about to pass out from boredom, or die as my head imploded from the monotone delivery destined to shrink my brain. My disappointment in the oral presentation skills of astronomers in general will be the topic of another blog.