Astro widgetery

August 28, 2008

Apologies to all you PC and Linux folk – this one is for Mac fans. It was no surprise to find that the Fermi first light sky map was today on Astronomical Picture of the Day (APOD). However I didn’t need to go to the web site to check it out. I have a Widget that sucks down the latest APOD every day. For the non-Macees, widgets are tiny little applications (few hundred K typically) that run inside the Dashboard. They are apparently dead easy to write (not that I have tried yet …) as they are basically web pages, written with HTML and Javascript, but instead of being run by a browser, they run inside the Dashboard runtime environment.

As a result, there are now hundreds of these things, including a whole bunch of astro related ones. As well as APOD, you can get several different planetarium style viewers, including a free version of Starry Night, widget versions of the Vizier catalogues and ADS literature search, two different solar image viewers, and the latest Astronomical Telegrams. Those links are to the web-pages. To find the widgets, go to the Apple download page, browse, and enjoy. Its rather addictive, as they are so easy to download and try out. As well as all that astro stuff, there are lots of amusing things, like a Universal Translator, a Roman Numeral Clock, and regular stuff like weather forecasts etc.

A lot of this stuff you can of course also get with VO tools like VODesktop, Aladin, or PaperScope. The advantage of the widgets is they take about 3 minutes to understand.  The advantage of the VO tools is that you can carry on and do some real work with what you find.

If you want to know how to develop widgets, go here.