Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Live and Streaming - The Top 5 Science Streams

The internet age has given us access to so many vectors of useless information that some really amazing science sites go unnoticed. Luckily, I have noticed them for you.

These are the five coolest online scientific data streams, brought to you by Zu.

5. Ground Control to Major Tom

Space exploration may seem alien to you (ha!), but NASA’s Human Space Flight tracker brings it home by showing you the precise location of the International Space Station (ISS). If there were any manned (personned?) shuttles in orbit right now, you’d be able to track those too. The site provides you with the status of the ISS, as well as who’s on board and your next chance to catch a glimpse of it in the sky over your town.

4. Ahoy, E-Matey! keeps track of all ships at sea with free and open access to a dizzying amount of information. You can look up a specific ship and see where it has been, where it is, and where its going, or just watch the whole world cruising along. The sheer density of vessels and their dispersion throughout the globe is pretty amazing, but this site gives you so much: itineraries, vessel stats, pictures, histories, docks, and so on.

If you prefer the sky to the sea, the airliner’s equivalent is FlightAware.

3. Eye in the Sky

NASA’s Satellite Tracker provides a three-dimensional view of all the satellites currently orbiting the earth (or at least the unclassified ones...). You can view the movements in real time, with each satellite represented as one little white dot. You can actually track the motion of individual satellites, and watch as they zoom across continents and oceans with amazing speed, or see the whole mess of them careening around the earth. When you zoom out, our little home planet looks blanketed with a quivering mass of tiny objects.

2. I Want To Believe

You can lend a hand with the Search for Extraterrestrial Life's (SETI) data processing efforts and get a front row seat to the song of the spheres with SETI@Home. SETI scans the cosmos for transmissions from distant planets. The amount of data they accumulate is massive, and processing power gets expensive. In the past few years, SETI has successfully managed to crowd-source their work, and now you and your computer are an important part of their efforts.

If you opt in to participate in the project, the processing program runs in the background when your computer is idling, so it won’t get in your way while you’re trolling the web. While it runs, you get a pretty graphical representation of the information that’s passing through your machine, with information about the frequencies of electromagnetic waves that they, and now you, are processing.

1. Life is the Bubbles (Under the Sea)

Many say that the oceans are the last frontier on this planet, a realm so mysterious that we know more about the moon than about the sea-floor. Thanks to Lido you can vicariously play deep-ocean explorer by listening, in real time, to the audio feeds from various underwater research sites.

The site is a work in progress, and not all the research facilities are streaming yet, but once you realize you are listening to underwater noises from thousands of miles away you can’t help but feel that the future is happening. If you’re patient, and a little lucky, you can hear the distinct hums and clicks of whales as they go about their daily whale lives, and the effect is pretty enchanting. You can also hear the persistent roar of commercial ships nearby, a sort of noise pollution that some marine biologists worry might be getting in the way of whale communication. Once you hear it, you might sympathize.

Do you have other favorites?  Let me know, and I'll keep a compiled list of all the great data feeds out there.

Images to come!  

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