As with all major meeting's this one had a conference dinner - it was, rather impressively, held in the American Museum of Natural History. The highlight of the night was getting to go into the planetarium there and being shown a fly through of their very nice software for visualising the universe (well, we didn't fly through their software in the sense of having code projected onto the Planetarium ceiling and scrolling through it - we saw pretty pictures). The software tries to make as much use as possible of real astronomical data sets, so it doesn't project up artists impressions, or simulations (other than it's representation of the Milky Way as observed from outside), but tries to be a close to reality as allowable from current knowledge. All the data went together pretty seamlessly (they said that there are a few bugs to iron out, but it worked surprisingly well for a beta version - we were in essence getting a sneak peak that the generally lay-public won't get to see quite yet), from the visualisation of the Earth and it's satellites (after having zoomed out from a view of Manhattan) all the way out to the 2dF and SDSS galaxy and quasar surveys. One thing we got to do in the planetarium that you don't normally get to do (in big museum-style planetariums at least), was to lie on the floor in the middle and look up - it's a cool way to view it and saves you from getting a crick in your neck. Being able to observe the 2dF and Tully (a big space cube) surveys in 3D was cool, and looking down the 2 degree field beams was a way I'd never seen it before.
Apparently all the software that they use will be freely available at some point, but I forget who's developing it and where it lives. I think it's partially based on this Digital Universe package.
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