Google Sky has been adding scientifically interesting (and maybe useful) astrophysical data since its introduction a few weeks ago. In particular, Geoff Marcy has added known exoplanets (i.e., planets around other stars) and Joshua Bloom has added support for VOEvents, a data format for distributing information about astrophysical events happening in real time, such as supernovae (exploding stars) and intense gamma-ray bursts. Marcy and Bloom are both from Berkeley, which was savvy enough to issue a Press Release: it’s not often that astronomers get to mention billion-dollar companies in their work.
That’s how I learned that two of Sky’s developers are Ryan Scranton and Andy Connolly, astrophysicists who had worked on the Sloan Digital Sky Survey but since apparently decamped to the greener pastures (darker skies? bigger computers? larger paychecks?) of Google itself. Maybe they’d like to sponsor a blog or two?
Update: thanks to Mollishka, in the comments, for pointing out a more technical paper on Google Sky by Scranton, Connolly and others which I completely missed (busy week at Imperial Astrophysics with lots of distractions I can’t write about!…). One of the interesting nuggets of infomation is that the “native” coordinate system is simply a rectangular grid in latitude and longitude. Such a projection heavily distorts (and oversamples) the regions around the poles; this makes some sense for the Earth — there’s not much going on at the North and South poles — but less so on the sky, where most directions are just an interesting as any other, and hence has spurred the development of more complicated systems like HEALPix and GLESP for pixelizing the sphere.