Astronomy Launchpad

Astronomy Launchpad

Astronomy Launchpad Homepage

As an undergraduate, I briefly studied mathematics, physics, and astronomy. I continued these studies in graduate school by taking a course in cosmochemistry at the University of Arizona’s Lunar & Planetary Laboratory. This was one of the best courses I had taken and rekindled my love for space science. Upon graduating with a Masters degree in Information Resources & Library Science, I began looking for employment in a science library with the intention of developing digital libraries with interactive, multimedia resources. While prepared for the world of academic librarianship, I realized that my computer science skills were lacking; so in 2004 I began teaching myself HMTL, CSS, PHP, MySQL and JavaScript. I applied what I was learning by developing a site called the Astronomy Launchpad. This site contained a database with information about more than 80,000 stars, including names, right ascension, declination, distance, mass, magnitude, spectrum, etc. I never had the time to complete the site, but I learned a lot during the process.

I began by creating a simple search engine to pull up detailed information pages of each star. One could search by name or region of the sky. This was a regular looking database-driven website that took data from a table, let the user search for specific entries and retrieve more information from the table – very standard, and kind of boring. I knew that one could use the GD-library in PHP to generate image files from code, but wasn’t sure how to do it. So, I learned and applied this knowledge by creating star charts in multiple projections based on mathematical transformations of the location data in the database. The first full image I created was a flat projection map of the sky with stellar colors and magnitudes determined by database values. One could clearly make out many of the constellations, as well as the arms of the Milky Way galaxy. Since this was a single image trying to display more than 80,000 stars, it was not very effective, so I placed links on each region to go to a zoomed view. Users could navigate through two additional level of zooming to explore all of the stars in the database. Each star had a link to its detail page as well as title attributes which gave the star’s name. All of these images were dynamically generated using PHP.

Explore the Sky!

Molweide’s Projection of the Night Sky
Generated using the GD-library in PHP

From here, I added different projections of the night sky including conical, mercator’s, and molweide’s projections. Each projection took some fairly sophisticated transformations of the polar coordinates to create. I also added a glossary, planet pages, some full text articles, an RSS feed, multimedia and interactive learning objects, a contributor’s interface, and lessons on various topics.

I will be adding posts as time goes on to describe and explain some of the features of the site. These posts will include descriptions of:


  1. Stellar Mappingsee it in action
    1. Equirectangular projectionsee it in action
    2. Conical projectionsee it in action
    3. Molweide’s projectionsee it in action
    4. Molweide’s projection as seen from other starssee it in action
    5. Navigable Star Chartssee it in action
  2. JavaScript Animations — coming soon!
  3. DHTML Gravity Experimentsee it in action
  4. XML / XSLT / VML Stellar Database — coming soon!
  5. VRML Saturn V Rocket — coming soon!


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