Thursday, August 9, 2007

PlanetQuest Update

Another update from Dr. Laurance Doyle on the status of the PlanetQuest group:

...Our lack of progress at the moment is a funding issue which we feel could be solved if we can get initial funding to a point where we can finish the alpha test version of the software and thereafter sign folks up to be supporting-founding members of PlanetQuest.

We do have sufficient astronomical data (stellar light curves) at present for a thorough test of the system and could accommodate perhaps up to 100,000 users for a year. This was previously my main concern. We have also carried the problem through from data acquisition to light curve model fitting (the transit detection algorithm) and therefore see no technical issues in the way of proceeding.

Most of our personnel, however, are also extremely busy people working in other businesses and on other projects, and so PlanetQuest has not received the attention lately that it needs to move forward as quickly as it could, because it is largely (although not entirely) a volunteer project at this point.

I would like to see it take off this year-that is, that we are able to release an alpha version of the Collaboratory and start to post key parts of our educational web site on a daily basis. I am involved in fund raising for PlanetQuest at present, and also writing a comprehensive business plan.

The overall project in execution is quite complex, but the basic overview ideas are readily understandable. After about seven years now since the initial idea, we are still unique in offering a project like PlanetQuest (which surprises me a little). Computational speed (i.e., Moore's Law) has gone up over a factor of 25 in that time, so we have had to collect a lot more stellar data. Our team is ready to proceed, then, as soon as we can get support for the final phase of the programming...

PlanetQuest is a worthy project to allow desktop users (like me and you) to contribute to the search for extra-solar planets that may harbor life. But in order to get the software working and continue their science, they need money. I gave them some a while back, but they obviously still need more.

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