ClearDarkSky, All Sky Camera Standards and Goals, Education, Research, Weather and Climate
This year I joined the Houston Astronomical Society, the Astronomical League and now Texas Astronomical Society.
I am a retired mathematical statistician, but I work full time still as Director of the Internet Foundation. If you want me to bore you to tears about global Internet communities, I am happy to oblige.
I have been locating observatories, models, data collections, groups, universities, tools, methods, instruments – everything related to astronomy (just as I do for hundreds of topics on the Internet).
But my real interest is in noise in instruments. So noise in telescope cameras is a perennial with me. Now live videos on the Internet many of which see the sky and I want to put overlays of stars, satellites, comets, planets, sun moon and other things for any image.
But, I live in Houston near down town. I have not had a car for years, and my drivers license just expired. So I pretty much walk and do things on the Internet. But I would like to study pixels in images of the sky.
In the past year I have been finding many thousands of 24/7 live webcams on the Internet. That is a social and economic process I follow. But as a global community, none of the groups is working together. The astronomers are not coordinating their Internet activities. The astronomy clubs are not. Now you will say, “There are all kinds of groups connected and working together”. But I am talking about the experiences of the Internet users, where there are about 4.8 Billion new with some level of access, most through cell phones. And what they see mostly is a bewildering array of unconnected sites, all different, all talking about one things but going in many different directions.
I am starting to do it again. My work so consumes me, I talk about global communities on the Internet to everyone.
What I want to do is help sponsor a clear dark sky webcam for Houston. I tried to explain it to the Houston Astronomical Society and Astronomical League. But my way of trying to explain is apparently off-putting or confusing or too much work. So people are not responding positively. I have been working on the internet Foundation for 23 years, and it is hard to remember when I did not know how global communities form and grow or die.
I recently and last year tried to interest ABC13 in adding an all sky camera to their two online webcams. They are seeing only a tiny portion of the sky with their mostly fixed direction and fixed focal length cameras. It gives a general sense of the weather (sponsed by ABC13 weather department) but it could do much more if the whole sky were monitored from two locations.
I found TAS from https://www.cleardarksky.com/csk/sponsors.html#howmuch the list of sponsors for ClearDarkSky.com run by Amila Danko
I was going to make a donation to support that effort. But I would rather make all sky cameras standard for every major city in the world. Because most people now live in large cities (89% of Americans) where light pollution and clouds and poor seeing are more common than not. I rarely see even one star in Houston. So I was willing to pay to see the sky from a clear dark sky somewhere else. I tried to rent time at observatories, tried to interest my family in putting one in. The problem is Internet bandwidth, time, expertise in computers and mathematics and data. I can help. But I cannot and don not want to do it alone.
Now there are many efforts (mostly failed or abandoned or partial) to put all sky cameras on the Internet. But they are trying to support themselves by selling cameras. And there are few who want cameras. But there are probably one in a thousand in the world (about 5 Billion/1000 = 5 Million) already interested in astronomy. And almost everyone who cares about the weather. So I wanted to combine the two uses of a global network of 24/7 all sky cameras – archiving lossless data (I spent decades following and using IRIS.edu which has all the seismometer data and other groups who learned the value of sharing data and tools online with archives for education and research. I track all global sensor networks)
It is a lot. I am sorry. I don’t know how to do small things. But I have spent a lifetime of professional work on global problems.
I offered to buy an all sky camera for HAS for their dark site. And then help contact all the schools in Houston (about 200,000 students and Texas Schools ( I worked for Texas Education Agency long ago and helped set up their central accounting system) Every city in Texas (1200 incorporated cities of which 400 towns are less than 1000). Any small town might have better viewing then the large cities.
Well, now I have bored you to death. I gave HAS a few ZWO cameras and others. I have programmed for over 50 years now. I worked out a way to overlay star charts on any video, and to use stacking to improve the quality of any web camera or video. A sky with stars is useless if people only stare at tiny dots. Put an overlay on a live YouTube video of the sky where you can hover every tiny pixel at magnification, and where you can mathematically improve the magnification by using the 1800 frames per minute that most feeds are using. If the same methods are applied to the raw data coming from the cameras, then for students learning the sky for the first time, there is a way to cut down on years of struggling to connect the massive amount of online astronomical data to the images in their cell phones, their web browsers, their screen looking at their telescopes.
Now I also track all global communities related to “global climate change”. My work is mathematical statistics, but my education is statistical mechanics and gravitational detectors. I can read and do use most of the different kinds of data on the Internet. Much of my time is spent reviewing these sites and giving them feedback on things that are broken or wrong on their sites, and recommending best Internet practices.
I probably gave you too much. By the time you get a camera, housing, computer, and software an all sky camera ends up close to $2000. My monthly Internet in Houston is $45 a month. But my sister in the country has to pay three times that for much less. I spent a couple of years tracking what are called “software defined radios” and they can be used with a computer to monitor and transmit radio. There are many of them moving towards radio astronomy, and I also try to track the radio astronomy models, data, groups, methods, equipment, detectors, applications and activities. I am thinking that maybe there are people who can help set up all sky cameras and also know how to get low cost communication to the Internet. I try to explain to the all sky groups that they do not have to send 30 frames per second. It is better to archive the lossless data to hard drive and upload 1 frame per second to the Internet for YouTube. A good YouTube can have millions of viewers and there are NO good all sky cameras there yet.
I am tired now and more than a little discouraged. I know this is worthwhile. But I cannot do it alone. I can help with Internet, I can help with a little money and cameras and computers. I can tell you a lot about markets and social and economic processes and global needs for education and research and technology.
Richard K Collins, Houston Texas
(please email first so I know who is calling. I do not answer numbers I do not recognize).