With last week's public release of data from NASA's Kepler Mission
some very interesting and potentially insightful ways of examining the data sets are beginning to appear. Which points to the value of involving the public in some of the "Big Science" being done our researchers.
For those who don't know about the Kepler Mission:
Importance of Planet Detection
The centuries-old quest for other worlds like our Earth has been rejuvenated by the intense excitement and popular interest surrounding the discovery of hundreds of planets orbiting other stars.
There is now clear evidence for substantial numbers of three types of exoplanets; gas giants, hot-super-Earths in short period orbits, and ice giants. The following websites are tracking the day-by-day increase in new discoveries and are providing information on the characteristics of the planets as well as those of the stars they orbit: The Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia, NASA/IPAC/NExScI Star and Exoplanet Database, New Worlds Atlas, and Current Planet Count Widget.
The challenge now is to find terrestrial planets (i.e., those one half to twice the size of the Earth), especially those in the habitable zone of their stars where liquid water and possibly life might exist.
The Kepler Mission, NASA Discovery mission #10, is specifically designed to survey a portion of our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover dozens of Earth-size planets in or near the habitable zone and determine how many of the billions of stars in our galaxy have such planets.
Results from this mission will allow us to place our solar system within the continuum of planetary systems in the Galaxy.
An unusually interesting article on independent data visualization can be found over at BoingBoing
. It discusses some of the work being done by Jer Thorp.
Jer is a native of Vancouver, Canada, but he currently makes his home in New York City, where he is the New York Times' Data Artist in Residence and a visiting professor at New York University. He's also a contributing editor at Wired UK. Shortly after the Kepler data release, Jer and I started talking about how he could dynamically visualize both the magnitude and the nuance of the discoveries. This is what we came up with.
Some really cool things to think about:
Important data trends prominently emerge from this visualization. The abundance of smaller candidates and relative sparsity of larger ones clearly indicates that there are many tiny, meek worlds for every giant planet. But curiously there is a relatively stark drop-off in the frequency of Kepler candidates at or below approximately Earth-size
Rather than me re-summarizing it, read the whole article here
Also be sure check out the link to Jer's blog
. Jer is one of those people that mixes art with science to produce some amazing work.
About seven years ago, I had a bit of a career crisis. I was freelancing – working for clients I didn’t care much about on projects that I didn’t care much about, and feeling that there was a huge distance between the work that I was creating and my physical self. I was sick of computers, and was considering a range of (in hindsight) ridiculous vocational changes.
My rescue didn’t come from a new programming language, or a faster computer, or even better clients. It came, instead, from a return to the physical. I learned how to screenprint, and made rock posters for local bands, out of my living room. Every weekend, a friend and I would rack paper, pull squeegees, make an enormous mess – and escape from all of our pixel-based problems. We kept it up for a few years; after I moved into a larger, cleaner, less ink-friendly place I put my screens into storage. Even though I stopped printing, that time I spent screenprinting turned the rest of my career in a more creative direction.
Imagine how happy I was, then, to be asked by curator Christina Vassallo to be part of the inaugural edition of her Random Number Multiple series – a project that would produce screenprints from the work of computational artists and designers. Even better, this first edition would pair me with Marius Watz, an artist who has been a huge inspiration to me over the years, and whose work is exceptional in every way.
His site features examples of art generated by his various software projects along with the sourcecode he used to render the images. Should be a natural for the code and mathematically inclined among us.
Hop over to http://blog.blprnt.com
and check it out.
While you're there, take a look at his unfinished 7 Days of Source
series of articles for examples and code downloads.
These projects run the gamut from beautiful:
Trees are uniquely suited to being simulated using computer graphics. Indeed, since the 1970s, methods to algorithmically render trees have been developed and refined to the point at which trees seen in high-quality scenes are very nearly photorealistic. For this project, rather than concentrating on realistic renderings, I was instead interested in how simple forms could capture the inherent ‘treeness’ of the real thing.
To practical and potentially useful:
tools like Processing offer another solution – make small, custom tools for individual data sets which can be built quickly and can be used specifically to work with the characteristics of a specific data set. Because Processing is fairly simple, journalists, researchers and activists can all be empowered to investigate data themselves, without having to rely on expensive or difficult to acquire resources.
This sketch is an example of how this might work. I wanted to investigate the recently announced staggering Arts & Culture cuts in my local government‘s budget, and built a simple tool to do that. All told, it took about 5 hours to gather the data, produce this tool and get the results out on the web – certainly a turnaround time that would be useful for media and for activists looking to be quick with their responses.