Skynet allows students to acquire professional-quality images from multiple, professional-quality telescopes and sites around the world. However, this is only half the battle. Students also need to be able to explore their images, and make fundamental measurements from them, around which relevant laboratory experiences can be designed.
To this end, in 2008 we designed and built our own, web-based application, directly linked to the Skynet database (Afterglow 1.0). Advantages of this approach include no software to install, updates can be done server-side, and the heaviest computational lifting (e.g., batch photometry of hundreds of images) can also be done server-side, where the images are already located. Doing it ourselves also ensured that all capabilities needed for our introductory undergraduate-level, Skynet-based laboratory curriculum (Our Place In Space!; OPIS!) would be available in a single package, and that this package would be at an appropriate, student level.
These capabilities include: (1) image exploration (including re-scaling to bring out fainter structures, and marking and labeling); (2) measuring angles (e.g., across planets, or between planets and moons); (3) image alignment, both (a) to make movies, and (b) to overlay/blink simultaneously acquired images from different sites (e.g., to measure distances to solar-system objects, by parallax); (4) photometry (both manual and batch), and (5) periodograms and period folding (e.g., to establish standard candles, such as RR Lyrae and Cepheid stars, to measure distances to globular clusters and nearby galaxies). Afterglow 1.0 has now served roughly 10,000 students, both for OPIS! and for Skynet Junior Scholars (SJS).
Afterglow 1.0 has served us well, but being Flash-based, it needed to be transitioned to a new platform, and both education and professional users of Skynet have been requesting a more complete set of capabilities. Funded by a $2.5M NSF STEM+C award (PI Tim Spuck), we began work on Afterglow 2.0 in 2016, and this effort will be completed by mid-2019. Afterglow 2.0 is being developed in AngularJS, and will offer a fairly complete set of capabilities, including image stacking, and RGB and LRGB color combination. Furthermore, Afterglow 2.0 is open source, and supports non-Skynet and archive images as well.
As part of this award, and as part of a $1.5M NSF ISE award for SJS, we have invested significant resources to ensure that both our technologies and these awards’ middle- and high-school curricula are accessible to blind and visually impaired (BVI) and deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) students. Consequently, Skynet and Afterglow 2.0 (also called “Afterglow Access” for this reason), are already compatible with standard screen readers used by BVI students. Furthermore, we have developed and integrated new, significant image-sonification capabilities into Afterglow 2.0.