Like any software tool, Ushahidi can be repurposed for uses other than what it was designed for. The other day I was considering some alternative uses for the Ushahidi platform, for situations beyond the ‘crisis’ scenarios for which it was initially conceived. In reality, Ushahidi could be used for any sort of location based reporting. If someone wanted to, they could use it to map reports of car accidents, holiday sales, or celebrity sightings.
I happen to be enthusiastic about astronomy and I couldn’t imagine a more perfect scenario than using Ushahidi to help professionals and hobbyists alike, to monitor the stars. Enter the concept art below for an app I dubbed…SPACE MONITOR.
Before I continue, I should note that Space Monitor does not exist (yet). It’s entirely possible technically, but the screenshot above was created using an Ushahidi installation, Google Sky and Photoshop. Google actually offers Google Sky tiled maps online, so I conceived this as a project that would bring the two together. The idea is that it would aggregate scientific reports and amateur discoveries to allow the astronomy community to monitor discoveries, abnormalities and interesting facts about space.
Let’s take a closer look shall we?
In the image above you see a tiled map of the stars. In a crisis monitoring Ushahidi instance, the tiled maps are of a place on earth where the size of the circles represents the frequency of reported incidents of violence in any given area. In the case of monitoring space, you have the same basic concept. However, instead of reporting incidents of violence, Space Monitor tracks irregularities of measurements recorded in different regions of the sky.
This is how professional scientists make new discoveries in space. When things are different, they scrutinize their measurements to determine if they can determine causation for irregularities. If the cause is something previously unrecorded, then it’s documented as a new discovery or find. Recently scientists at the European Southern Observatory reported the discovery of 32 new planets outside of our solar system. The typical method for discovering planets is to measure the magnitude of and brightness of the stars that are ‘behind them’. As the planet crosses between our vantage point of a star, scientists can measure the change in magnitude and determine what might be the cause. Sometimes the cause is discovered to be a planet’s orbit, sometimes it’s a nearby asteroid or other celestial objects.
With a tool like Space Monitor, anyone enthusiastic about astronomy could learn about all sorts of recent discoveries from one central location. This might serve as inspiration for more research, or it might provide the tip that allows an amateur enthusiast with a telescope to make a discovery.
This would be done by following a feed of reports like the ones above. In Figure B the feed is of a module that tracks ‘irregularities’ reported by different scientific instruments. This information is often hard to get, but if organizations like ESO and NASA offer such reports via their websites or Twitter accounts. Wit the proper meta information, these reports can be mapped. In Figure A these fake reports are represented by the white ellipses superimposed over stars. The more activity (irregularities) from a particular region of the sky, the larger the circle. This would also included ‘submitted reports’ by scientists and amateurs all over the world. Of course these would all need to be curated and verified by an in-house team that would verify their authenticity.
In Figure C, the module would track official reports (press replaces, news stories, articles, etc.) related to astronomy. If you look closely, in my mock up app, a series of reports from Figure B have lead to the announcement of a discovery in Figure C. The timeline in Figure D shows the frequency of reports on any given day.
Right now Space Monitor is purely conceptual, but hopefully with the right involvement from professional or amateur astronomers, we’ll see Ushahidi applied to such scenarios in the very near future!